Adventure tours Phoenix/Scottsdale: It’s a wonderful life

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • January 31, 2022

“I traveled to Phoenix/Scottsdale for work and realized I had a free morning. I spoke to our hotel concierge, and she recommended Wild Bunch Desert Guides! The hotel reached out to them, and the owner called my cell very promptly to plan our adventure. You can tell that Laurel loves what she does, and she is a fantastic business owner and guide! She provided me with water and snacks, she made sure to brief me on safety and we took plenty of water breaks. I would highly recommend this guide company to anyone. They also do mountain biking tours which I want to do next!” – David, Washington, D.C., on Tripadvisor, Sept. 2017

Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren takes a break from hiking in Phoenix to pose for this picture with her all-time favorite companion for a hike, her Plot Hound, Daisy Mae.
Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren takes a break from hiking in Phoenix to pose for this picture with her all-time favorite
companion for a hike, her Plot Hound, Daisy Mae.

Not only is the climate almost always sunny and warm in Arizona, but I am blessed is so many ways with a wonderful life in the legendary Valley of the Sun.
My Jimmy Stewart-esque existence includes owning an incredible business that speaks to my passions in life. The Wild Bunch Desert Guides are dedicated to providing guests once-in-a-lifetime experiences in the Sonoran Desert via Phoenix hiking tours and Scottsdale mountain bike tours.
I am fortunate to boast a fantastically talented and loyal staff that shares my love for guided adventures tours Phoenix/Scottsdale – and consistently produces five-star reviews from TripAdvisor, Yelp and Google.
On the personal side, I have a one-in-a-million boyfriend in Brett, two magnificent dogs and some marvelous friends – and sadly, I know not everyone has as much love and support in their lives.
Also, I am thankful for having a roof over my head and a really nice vehicle to drive -- and I know some are unfortunately unable to say those same things.
There is stress in every life, but I am able to do so much without “real-life” worries such as when and where my next meal will come from -- so I know I am so much more fortunate than many people.

However, it is important to recognize some rain must fall in every life.
Sometimes, life throws at you some obstacles you have to find a way to overcome.
That is when running a small business has to take a backseat to the reality of life.
That certainly was the situation for me recently.
Laurel Darren (left), shares a thrilling UTV ride with her mom at Stellar Adventures during better times.

Laurel Darren (left), shares a thrilling UTV ride with her mom at Stellar Adventures during better times. 

Adventures with mom
I am sure many readers can relate to being in the same position where all of a sudden this switch happened, and my mom was no longer my mom – I am kind of her mom now.
She has always been such a strong, independent woman, but I find myself taking on more now to help guide her in navigating the last quarter of her life’s journey.
So, I have taken a break from some work demands a couple of times over the last two months to fly back home to the Quad Cities in Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois.
The homecomings have allowed me to not only see my mom but get her ready to make a life change.
So, together we have gone through some old stuff in her home – finding pictures and other things like my letter jacket from East Moline’s United Township High School. I am happy to report I slipped the old orange & black on again and luckily the coat still fits.
Stuff like that has brought back great memories but some of the pictures and items also reminds us of painful moments.
So, I have shared a lot of laughs and tears here recently with my mom.
There have been powerful, emotional moments – and they have brought up many things I have not really thought about for a long time while staying busy offering Phoenix hiking tours and Scottsdale mountain bike tours.
But there have been just as many happy, joyful, smiling moments and I am grateful to share this quality time right now with my mom – especially since we have had a pretty rocky relationship the last 4-5 years.
I am sure many people can relate to that with their parents, too. As you get more independent and eventually fly the coop, distance is created even if you are still in the same town – and I have been a thousand miles away in Arizona, so there was a physical distance straining things, too.
Upon parting this time, we flipped each other off, which is something my mom and I always do, even though we love each other and did have a really great time together.
The bottom line is realizing you can’t change the past. There is no going back. There are no do-overs. Holding grudges and retaining negative thoughts never is good for anyone. All you can do is move forward and make things better now and try and learn from your past mistakes.
A concerned Laurel Darren shares a car ride home with Daisy Mae following a check up for her dog's leg amputation.
A concerned Laurel Darren shares a car ride home with Daisy Mae following a check up for her dog's leg amputation.

Challenges with Daisy Mae
Both times while I was in Iowa, my all-time best companion for hiking in Phoenix – and everywhere else -- was experiencing health issues.
My loyal Plot Hound, Daisy Mae, was diagnosed with Valley Fever, but continued having trouble walking with a gimpy hind leg.
Thankfully, while sitting down one day with my website designer -- Brian Rideout of BANG! – he asked how my dog was doing. After getting the troubling update, Brian hooked me up with Dr. Evan Ware, DVM, of the Phoenix Veterinary Center.
Brett took care of Daisy Mae while I was away, including a trip to Dr. Ware for an exploratory surgery which revealed “The Big C” and the need for a leg amputation.
Fortunately, the good news is we caught the problem before it spread, and my girl is doing well, adjusting to life as a “tripod dog.” Our days of sharing long and challenging hikes together are over but Daisy Mae still will be at my side for a lot longer.
Looking for the positivity in every situation – and not allowing stress to overtake your life – is something I have been working extremely hard at lately. I see a spiritual healer 2-3 times per month and am reminded to look for the joy even (and especially) when faced by adversity.
So, I am incredibly thankful for having found Dr. Ware, who has helped save my Daisy Mae and prevented any more pain and heartache.
I also am grateful for Brett’s continued commitment to our little family.
And while rushing home after Daisy Mae’s procedure, I was reminded that when you open your heart -- and give love and find joy -- it is just amazing who crosses your path on this journey.
For instance, there were Facebook friends sharing inspirational videos and stories of dogs and their owners overcoming this same hurdle.
You also would not believe the number of people who I ran into who had a message of support, too.
“I was just at a friend’s house yesterday and they had the coolest tripod dog ever,” one person was excited to share.
I even ran into a fellow passenger at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport who was chatting with me. I ended up telling him about Daisy Mae’s surgery and he just stopped and looked at me and said, “It’s going to be OK! You wouldn’t believe this, but I was just at a party the other night and they had the cutest tripod dog.”

Daisy Mae recovering from her recent leg amputation is kept calm and quiet and cared for by her family.
Daisy Mae recovering from her recent leg amputation is kept calm, quiet and comfortable round-the-clock for by her family. 

Home is where the heart is
Just like in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Angels come in many forms with encouraging signs and positive people seeming to present themselves when we need them most.
Case in point -- my friends Kate and Kelly.
Kate normally works overnights and Kelly is on the 1-9 p.m. shift at a Phoenix hospital.
I called them from a HyVee grocery store in Iowa the day I was flying back home recently.
“Is there any way either one of you can pick me up at the airport because Brett can’t leave Daisy Mae right after surgery,” I asked them.
They were like, “Absolutely; we're both options,” because they both happened to have the night off from work.
Same with the latest visit home to see my mom.
I got to share some time with one of my best friends from high school, Justin Thies, who is a Special Education teacher now at Rock Island High School. It was really nice to sit down and catch up with him – and it just sort of worked out – because it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and he happened to be off from school that afternoon.
Those are the kinds of simple joys that go unnoticed so much in life -- when things just seem to come together by either magic or fate.
Another blessing in disguise during my homecoming was the opportunity to eat my way around the Quad Cities.
Twice I was able to enjoy to my most favorite sandwich on the planet -- the Hungry Hobo King 11 on wheat with everything.
I also had a couple of pieces – middle cuts, of course, because they are the absolute best -- of Hobo’s famous spice cake, which is SOOOOOO fricking good. 
The simple comforts of home also included my Happy Joe’s special Sauerkraut & Canadian Bacon pizza and the famous chips and cheese at Rudy’s Tacos.
To top it off, I had my Moose Tracks vanilla ice cream shake from Whitey’s.
So, I got to hit all of the must-visit haunts.
Additionally, I found a new must-do when I am back home next time by twice experiencing an outstanding new restaurant called The Foundry near Bettendorf’s massive and gorgeous TBK Bank Sports Complex.
But now it is time to return to work – and find a way to drop all those extra pounds I added during my latest trip home! (ha)
Daisy Mae is recovering nicely and adjusting to her new realities.

Daisy Mae is recovering nicely and adjusting to her new realities.
Back to adventure tours Phoenix/Scottsdale
So, in regard to my business, now is “go” time for Phoenix hiking tours and Scottsdale mountain bike tours.
The first week of February is normally super busy – and the whole month builds to spring breaks in March.
The Wild Bunch Desert Guides are blessed as usual. We have a number of small corporate groups reaching out for adventure tours Phoenix/Scottsdale. We also have some pretty big Phoenix mountain bike tours coming up.
So, I am actually thankful I received a couple of recent reality checks to help me appreciate even more and not take for granted my wonderful life.
I also have been reminded I need to start saying “no, I’m sorry” to visitors when our Phoenix adventure tours are sold out.
I have to start referring more guests to other Phoenix adventure tour companies -- I just can’t make everything work, even though I love rising to a challenge and hate admitting defeat.
Because Brett and I are both in the Arizona adventure tours industry -- and Brett is slammed at Stellar Adventures --  I have to make some adjustments for the time being.
However, we will manage – especially with the loyal crew of guides by my side like the Angel Clarence from the movie -- because I have to take care of my dog right now, too.
I called my mom this morning to say, “I love you.”
Something she always says to me rings so true right now -- “You are not everybody's Personal Jesus.’” That doesn’t mean you can’t do big things – or be transformative -- but you can’t solve everybody’s problems, try as you might.
The last few weeks have been quite the whirlwind. The last two months have tested my resolve – as well as testing how much I can mentally manage as well as testing my relationships.
But in clearing those hurdles – and finding the inherent joy and positivity in those challenging situations -- I am reminded none of us can do it all alone.
It takes a great team to accomplish big things, and so I say thank you to Brett, and my many dear friends, and my loyal guides.
All have reached out to say, “How can we help?”
Without any of them, I can’t possibly have a super successful business – or enjoy my wonderful life.
My bottom line is a bit different from the movie’s George Bailey.
For me, Daisy Mae is going to get better, and the Wild Bunch is going to get busy. I will also get my mom into a good place, and we will continue to move forward to a better place.


About the Author

Laurel Darren is the founding owner of the Wild Bunch Desert Guides, a 5-star rated adventure tour company that offers guided hiking tours and guided mountain biking tours in Arizona’s picturesque Sonoran Desert in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. Arriving in the legendary “Valley of the Sun” in 2012 -- from the home of John Deere in the Quad Cities of Eastern Iowa/Western Illinois -- this corn-fed Midwest girl brought 30 years of athletic chops under her chaps. A 3-sport high school standout and former college softball player – who won her conference’s Athlete of the Year award as a prep senior – Darren has graduated to competing in many races as an adult, from road running and cycling, to cyclo-cross and Mountain Bikes, and even Duathlon and Triathlon “Ironman” competitions. Darren was a popular, top-rated senior mountain bike guide at Arizona’s Outback Adventures before branching out to start her own small adventure business in 2016. To book a guided mountain bike tour or guided hiking trip – or a combination of the two adventures – please visit the home page or call 602-663-0842.


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