“How did you hear about us?” this is the question put to all who phone the Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs, Calif. The answer often given is from a friend—or, even more often, from one of the ranch’s 85 Colonists, or residents, for whose guests the 20-acre central compound, which lies at the heart of 400 acres of ultraprivate Mojave land, is maintained. Indeed, the casually curious will discover little on their own: Though the entrance to the ranch lies but a horseshoe’s toss from the desert resort town’s famous Palm Canyon Drive, its gates—all but concealed behind a palisade of pipe organ cacti—are easily overlooked. Many lifelong residents of the city are unaware of Smoke Tree’s existence, and very few have ever gone inside.
Those few who have enjoyed the privilege seldom have remained indifferent to the property’s charms. The main road, divided down its middle by ranks of wispy, ash-hued smoke trees, carries one back in time: The street traffic vanishes as the San Jacinto mountains rise up, crevassed by shadows in the winter sun, and a mantle of peacefulness descends quietly upon the visitor. The gardens reflect the landscape, disturbed only by foraging cottontails and the silent arabesques of black-throated hummingbirds. The buildings, low-slung ranch-style bungalows encircled by inviting porches and richly fruited orange and grapefruit trees, underscore the property’s historic Western ambience. The impression created is one of the California Dream of a century ago, when the state was largely agrarian—the pastel-toned idyll of ranchos, mountains, and citrus groves found now only on the labels of vintage lemon and avocado crates.
Daily life on the ranch emphasizes rustic simplicity. The rooms of the period bungalows, though spacious, are bright (many have wood-burning fireplaces) and ascetically furnished: The beds throughout are twins (their headboards adorned with the ranch’s distinctive cattle brand), though the staff will, on request, place two of them together. Meals are served at the Ranch House, the social axis of the enclave, which stands adjacent to the pool pavilions and the bowling green. Here guests gather in the spacious dining hall three times a day (meals are announced by the ringing of a large iron triangle) to partake of sumptuous, if not luxurious, fare. Though jackets and ties are (somewhat incongruously) required, the atmosphere is unostentatious, lively, yet elegant—not, admittedly, for everyone; but those seeking unfussy comfort and a hearty antidote to the homogeneity of 21st-century luxury will want to head on back to the ranch, again and again.
Smoke Tree Ranch
Palm Springs, Calif., at the foot of the San Jacinto mountain range.
57 uniquely individual guest cottages. Several offer multiple bedrooms that connect to a central sitting room to accommodate groups or families.
Swimming pool, a three-hole practice golf course (arrangements can be made for guests at Palm Springs’ many full-scale courses), tennis, horseback riding, bicycling, lawn bowling, croquet, basketball, horseshoes, fitness center.
The Ranch House restaurant serves buffet-style meals three times a day. Cocktails are served daily from 6 pm. Dishes range from osso buco and chicken Véronique to grilled cheese sandwiches. The restaurant also offers a complete wine list.
Scheduled breakfast rides, by horseback, into the canyons are not to be missed.
Open only October to April; from $395 to $625 (double occupancy). Special rates are available for extended stays, and holiday rates apply. The ranch is a private community; however, Robb Report readers are always welcome. Please reference this article when making a reservation.
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