Flying standby on Phoenix adventure tours

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • January 15, 2024
A family of three admires the Sonoran Desert landscape before them on one of the Phoenix mountain bike tour with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.(TOP) A family of three admires the Sonoran Desert landscape before them on one of the Phoenix mountain bike tour with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides. (COVER) A pair of friends pauses to take a picture with a cactus during a Phoenix adventure tour with the Wild Bunch.

In late December, a woman called at 3 p.m. interested in one of the five-star sunset adventures from my Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

We always appreciate the business and the opportunity to answer questions from our guests here in the Valley of the Sun.

However, there was a problem I could not fix for her.

She was hoping to join a Phoenix mountain bike tour at sunset THAT EVENING – and I had to explain those adventures are currently starting at 3 p.m. with darkness coming earlier right now.

“Ohhhhhhhhh!” she said. “I just saw your flyer at my resort and it sounds so amazing! Is there any way my husband, son and I can make it to catch at least part of a sunset mountain bike tour?”

And so, that led me to explaining all of the Phoenix adventure tours offered by my little mom-and-pop specialty shop are completely private experiences especially tailored for only you and your family or travel party.

Unlike the bus tours and cattle calls of the larger big-box retail operators in the area, Wild Bunch never adds “randos” – a.k.a. somebody else – to your unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime memory.

Plus, the key point was escaping her – the available sunset mountain bike tours in Phoenix were already booked and just starting.

Guides in the Phoenix adventure tours industry are private contractors – and this passion play of ours showing visitors the beauty of our Sonoran Desert is likely a secondary gig to a full-time job.

So, contrary to the visions conjured up by the old hit TV comedy “Taxi,” there is not a bullpen full of guides sitting around a table playing cards and watching TV while waiting for the next guest to call for our service.

Unfortunately, I had to say to her the same thing I have said for years to countless same-day callers: “Ma’am, we just don’t have a guide available yet tonight to squeeze you in. Can we take you out tomorrow?”

That is not always my answer – but more often than not, last-minute requests have to be turned down for the simple logistical issue of not having a certified guide available to lead the party.

But requests after 6 p.m. seeking a next-day adventure – or worse yet, same-day calls -- have become an increasingly unfortunate trend these days.

There is just not as much planning ahead anymore when considering a vacation or destination.

More and more visitors are waiting until they arrive now to spontaneously “go with the flow” and book their adventures when they get here – and sometimes that happens each day for them after enjoying breakfast.

That has been one of my harder moments in business over the last year.

I don’t like being the “bad guy” and turning down every late request. I want to help make magic happen.

So now, I have adjusted by establishing a standby guide to help manage the high volume of last-minute booking calls the Wild Bunch is receiving.
A couple of friends glide along the Sonoran Desert trails during a Phoenix mountain bike tour with the Wild Bunch.
A couple of friends glide along the Sonoran Desert trails during a Phoenix mountain bike tour with the Wild Bunch.

Phoenix adventure tours tip: Avoid ‘rush hour’
Despite the extra coverage each day, please understand that a standby guide is not a failsafe.

For instance, it did not help our late December caller.

The standby guide is waiting until 11 a.m. for a same-day request – and more than likely, that option is snatched up much earlier than that.

But at least the idea has helped make more spur-of-the-moment wishes come true.

In particular, Wild Bunch Desert Guides has found room to accommodate same-day callers from one of our many business friends who unfortunately had their Phoenix adventure tours scrapped by the weather.

For example, Detours American West occasionally has to cancel their most-popular excursion because of extreme weather in the Grand Canyon that will not impact to the south our Phoenix hiking tours or Phoenix mountain bike tours.

Cancellations also happen sometimes for Hot Air Expeditions, with the big balloons grounded for safety reasons because of high winds above the Sonoran Desert floor.

Both of those businesses refer guests to us – as we send recommendations their way – and it is especially gratifying helping them and our shared visitors to the area adjust when necessary so they can experience as many great adventures as possible.

“Hey, why don’t you give Wild Bunch a call?” their reservations team will say. “They might be able to get you out today!”

I can’t tell you the number of calls we have received in those instances, but I am happy to report that the standby guide has saved a number of altered plans lately.

Wild Bunch also seems to be hearing from a lot of visitors in town for only 48 hours or a weekend these days.

It is that time of year – after the holidays and before spring breaks – when quick getaways dominate the travel landscape.

I never recommend guests book Phoenix adventure tours for same-day arrival.

There are too many variables – especially with flight delays or outright cancellations on the rise at airports across the country – and any carrier worthy of your business in my industry adheres to a 48-hour cancellation policy, as explained in another of my Blogs.

But the simple fact is windows are tighter than ever, and I would be rich if I had a dollar for every time I have heard the refrain, “We only have today for one of your Phoenix hiking tours or Phoenix mountain bike tours!”

Now, we are squeezing in more and more of those folks.

But sometimes the stars still don’t align, and so we can’t take you over the moon.

Just the other day, I had a guy text me at 8 a.m. hoping to book one of our Phoenix adventure tours for 11 a.m. later that morning.

Unfortunately, Wild Bunch was booked solid. Even the standby guide had been claimed by a couple callers the night before looking for a morning and afternoon adventure, respectively.

So, I had to apologize and try to redirect him to another day or time while explaining we don’t have an unlimited number of guides sitting around the office drinking coffee waiting for the next tour to show up that day.

“Well, we didn't decide until this morning that we wanted to do this,” he explained.

And I understood that – but unfortunately, he failed to grasp my limitations as well.

When he started to get a little pushy with me, I texted him back and said, “Again, if you'd like to go another day this week? We would be honored to have you as our guest. But this morning won’t work. I’m sorry; I can’t always make magic happen.”

Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren (purple shirt in background) is surrounded by a family during a Phoenix mountain bike tour.

Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren (purple shirt in background) is surrounded by a family during a Phoenix mountain bike tour.


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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