Finding fulfillment on Phoenix hiking tours

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • December 11, 2022

“Laurel was a welcoming host and informative guide on our two and a half hour mountain hike up the 302 Freedom Trail in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. I had hoped to do a biking trip, but my sidekicks were a little reticent. The hike was perfect for our group of four and made all the better by Laurel's stories, photo shoots, and mountain snack stop! Next, time ... biking for sure!” – Dea C., Alpha, Ill. On Yelp, May 9, 2021

More than the guests and guides enjoy the scenic landscapes on Phoenix hiking tours.
A heart-shaped cactus is another of the amazing sights to be seen during Phoenix hiking tours.
(TOP) More than the guests and guides enjoy the scenic landscapes on Phoenix hiking tours. (BOTTOM) A heart-shaped cactus is another of the amazing sights to be seen during Phoenix hiking tours.

Normally, as the owner and operator of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, I get to share my stories with you in this space.

However, in this episode of “Tales from the Trail,” I turn over this Blog to Wild Bunch guide Henry Ward.

He started working on the 5-star rated guided Phoenix hiking tours with my small mom-and-pop specialty shop just over a year ago in November 2021 and has proven to be an absolute natural.

Maybe that is because Henry has a heck of a personal yarn to talk about when asked in the middle of the Sonoran Desert – so he can relate to so many situations some of our guests might also be going through in their personal or professional lives.

Henry is an ultra-runner athletically and a chef by trade. Henry also is a published author – and a recovering alcoholic with more than 14 years of sobriety.

His book, “One Inch At A Time,” is about the road to running the grueling Cocodona 250-mile endurance race through the Sonoran Desert here in Arizona.

“Santa Laurel” highly recommends this work for holiday gift-giving. If interested, click on this link to purchase a copy of the paperback.

Like the race, the book is all about finding a way to get it done – every day, step by little step. 

Henry's hiking group winds along a picturesque Sonoran Desert trail during one of Wild Bunch's Phoenix hiking tours.

Henry Ward's hiking group winds along a picturesque Sonoran Desert trail during one of Wild Bunch's Phoenix hiking tours. ? 

Henry’s Phoenix hiking tours tale 
By Henry Ward
I have been working in the culinary field most of my life. But to say that I am burnt out from my chosen profession is an understatement.

Both during and after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic -- and just like everything else, it seems -- the food service industry has changed dramatically.

My job as a Food Service Director ended when my account was decommissioned because of employees working from home – so our contract was not renewed.

However, in July, I was hired as an Executive Chef in the Healthcare Industry. All was well in the beginning, then I quickly discovered that things were not as they appeared to be.

Let me explain.

I was told that we were all of a sudden “short staffed,” but I learned that this was not all of a sudden. Like so many other outlets in other industries, this location was short-handed since COVID-19 started in March 2020.

Also, the situation had not gotten better; things were getting progressively worse. It was like a revolving door of newcomers stating while other employees were leaving.

Some candidates we hired never showed up for orientation.

Some would show up for orientation, then never show up for their first scheduled shift.

Some would go to lunch, and never return.

So, our best employees would be asked to cover shifts … or stay late … or come early … or work on their off days. More likely all of the above.

They were getting burnt out, too, by the dizzying circumstances.

Meanwhile, some of their co-workers would show up late without so much as a call -- and I could not discipline them. If they were given a warning, most would quit anyway, and find another food service job anywhere, or not help out covering open shifts.

The employees were running the show and they knew it.

We were so short-handed, I was asked to do my executive chef job, and cover as a cashier, deliver food trucks to the units, stay late, come early, work weekends.

One day, I finally told myself, “This is not what I signed up for!”

This was clearly not what I wanted to do anymore.

Upon leaving that job, I put out into the universe the following: “I do not want to work in the food service industry any longer. Please, I want employment doing something I like!”

Ask and thankfully thou shall receive!
Surrounded by cactus and a mountainous backdrop, Henry's hiking group takes a break in the sun on one of the Wild Bunch's Phoenix hiking tours.
Surrounded by cactus and a mountainous backdrop, Henry's hiking group takes a break in the sun on one of the Wild Bunch's Phoenix hiking tours.

Phoenix hiking tours: Ward-ing off the demons
Laurel Darren, the owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides here in Arizona, put a message on Facebook last year asking if anyone might be interested in working as a guide for her customizable Phoenix hiking tours or Phoenix mountain bike tours.

I sent Laurel a message asking about the requirements for the job and she basically said that you need: 1) physical and mental endurance; 2) knowledge about the Sonoran Desert; 3) medical training to help manage emergencies; 4) the ability to talk to a wide array of people.

As an ultra-runner, I definitely have the endurance box checked.

Same for the people skills after managing employees and dealing with customers my entire business life.

I was a little intimidated by the desert knowledge and medical requirement but Laurel assured me that training would get me up-to-speed.

I shadowed a guide named Joe and he told me I needed general knowledge about the flora and fauna.

I also was relieved to hear that I would not need to place a tourniquet on people or carry them out of the desert on a stretcher made out of agave!

I went on a few group hikes with multiple guides, listened in on their talks, and asked a lot of questions.

All of a sudden, I had a job doing something I loved!

I was getting paid to talk to people and hike – so I was getting PAID TO TRAIN for Cocodona 250.

But what truly makes this work great – especially after the last few years in my chosen career – is this job is flat out fun.

Thank you, universe – and thank you Laurel and the Wild Bunch!

After the first of the year in 2022, we took the training wheels off and I started guiding my own tours for Wild Bunch without other guides.

The timing was perfect for this job. 

I have learned about the plants and wildlife in the Sonoran Desert.

I now have a general knowledge of the trails and area.

I also know how to tell if someone is dehydrated – and what to do if they are – as well as how to pull a cactus thorn out of somebody if needed.

And I know so much more than that now.

I also have been amazed to see how many people come from everywhere around the country to enjoy our beautiful Sonoran Desert.

This is what a job should feel like. I am thrilled every time I meet a new group of guests at the trailhead.
I was made for this!

Since taking that initial first step, I have enjoyed meeting and guiding hundreds of people from around the country and taking them all around our beautiful Sonoran Desert.

I am forever grateful for the opportunity.

Perhaps if it was not for COVID-19, I might have never taken this leap of faith.

So, I am super thankful to have found paradise.

It is incredibly important for me to spend time taking care of myself and my family -- and enjoying myself in this job gives me that flexibility.

My passion now is wherever the trails take me -- and that translates into great experiences for my guests. 

So, I am looking forward to meeting and showing more guests our AmAZing trails on Phoenix hiking tours!

Henry Ward after an ultra race.

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