Guiding your Phoenix adventure tours

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • January 29, 2024
A female guest is all smiles during one of the Phoenix hiking tours from the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.(TOP) A female guest is all smiles during one of the Phoenix hiking tours from the Wild Bunch Desert Guides. (COVER) Veteran Wild Bunch guide Jay is reveling in his last Phoenix hiking tours group.

GUIDE (noun) /gid/ – A person who advises or shows the way to others. Example: “This lady is our guide for Phoenix adventure tours."
The irony was hardly lost on me as I typed a “help wanted” message the other day on Facebook to my friends and many followers.

A year ago, my little mom-and-pop specialty shop for Phoenix adventure tours was head-scratchingly slow despite thousands of visitors flooding into the Valley of the Sun when the Super Bowl came to town at the same time as the PGA Tour’s largest annual party, the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

A year later, with the NFL’s big game visiting Las Vegas instead this February, my Wild Bunch Desert Guides are seeking to add staff to help manage a glut of guests already booking adventures in Phoenix for the Feb. 1-to-May 1, “Spring Break” stretch run into the offseason of our unbearably hot summer months.

Specifically needed are qualified leaders of guided Phoenix mountain bike tours for advanced and intermediate level guests wishing for the greatest thrill ride on the most-challenging trails possible.

That requires skills, as Liam Neeson would say in the “Taken” film franchise – both the experienced chops on a mountain bike AND the traits required to be a certified pathfinder for the Wild Bunch.

First Aid and CPR training is a must. So is first-class customer service and a deep knowledge of the Sonoran Desert. A plus is the passion for sharing with others the beautiful secrets of our trademark natural resource.

But Wild Bunch can offer guidance on all of that. Instead, the hardest part of the guiding equation is the advanced mountain bike skills, hence the search for high-end help.

Already, the Wild Bunch receives a steady stream of solo riders – or small groups of 2-3 mountain bikers – who want an intermediate level or better mountain bike ride pf 3-4 hours in Phoenix.

And that can stretch thin an already small staff of loyal, qualified guides -- who mind you are independent contractors working when they can around other jobs or personal commitments.

Already in this our ninth season of operation, the Wild Bunch has partnered with our friends in the Phoenix adventure tours industry on a guide-sharing program to better help us cover each of our many daily bases -- as mentioned in this December Blog.

The Wild Bunch also has adjusted to an uptick in late or same-day requests by adding a standby guide each morning – but those pathfinders seem to get gobbled up early and often, as discussed in this previous Blog.

However, neither idea truly tackles the challenge of having enough high-end guides to lead the most elite of our Phoenix mountain bike tours.

The bottom line is the Wild Bunch continues to grow in popularity – so it is time to lengthen our bench to help us deliver our high-demand homespun hospitality and five-star rated customer service to even more guests.

A Phoenix hiking tours guest gets up close and personal for a vacation picture with a cactus in the foreground of a beautiful Sonoran Desert landscape.

A Phoenix hiking tours guest gets up close and personal for a vacation picture with a cactus in the foreground of
a beautiful Sonoran Desert landscape.


Phoenix adventure tours: The Wild Bunch difference
As noted above, the definition of a guide is a simple 10-word sentence.

However, the task is much tougher in practice.

Because of the qualifications mentioned – from the medical training to the local knowledge -- Wild Bunch is unable to scour the city streets and round up people waving “Will work for food signs” to meet our need for guides of Phoenix adventure tours.

This vocation is not easily filled by a headhunter or posting on Indeed or LinkedIn.

It takes time to find precisely the right people for the job – especially for the high-end mountain bike tours in Phoenix where you need a set of skills to go along with your own bike and backpack to carry every essential item under the sun.

Tours book all the time, too – and at different times daily from sunrise to sunset – so guides need to be super flexible. The lack of a set schedule sometimes is the attraction, though, with most of the Wild Bunch guides either trying to enjoy their retirement or juggling 2-3 jobs.

Guides are also independent contractors – so there are no benefits such as health or dental insurance – which is why I have no rules against guides working for other companies.

The passion for other people and the desert is another stumbling block, too – although I have never required a guide to become a “cactus hugging specialist,” as I describe myself.

All of this adds up to the incredible importance of our guides, with the Wild Bunch built on a highly personalized “boutique experience.”

In contrast to the cookie-cutter, cattle-call bus tours of the large national retail operators, Wild Bunch Desert Guides offers guests completely customizable and totally private adventures “led by locals” on both Phoenix mountain bike tours and Phoenix hiking tours.

The local flavor is one of the things separating the Wild Bunch from our big corporate competitors – and can lead to localized advice on everything from other can’t-miss attractions to the best local dining or entertainment options. We also know where the best spots are to take the most memorable vacation photos.

The personal experiences and conversations on tour also have fostered long-distance friendships and guests returning annually for different adventures with the Wild Bunch, as revealed in this Blog.

Wild Bunch guides you through your adventure from start to finish – even reaching out after you book online to check on the best trail to match the location of your resort or hotel, as well as ensuring the trail meets your needs, goals and any disparate skill of fitness levels for you and your family or travel party.

We go to great lengths to make sure you are paired up with both the perfect guide and perfect adventure – but if adjustments have to be made, your tour guide needs to be knowledgeable enough to change directions and pivot to a Plan B.

I just did that myself on Christmas Eve for a family from Michigan.

When I met them at the trailhead, I could instantly sense that the mother was anxious about the challenge, feeling her husband may have bitten off more than she or her kids could chew.

And that is OK! You just can’t hesitate as a guide to do what is best for your guests.

I simply took them on a different trail, and they had an amazing time because they trusted me and my expertise to show them a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Although I can admittedly be a little too honest on the phone – and frankly, I know, considered a bitch by some – I assure you my directness or lack of political correctness comes from taking my role to guide you super seriously.

Whether or not I am actually leading your adventure at the trailhead, my job as the company owner is to make sure guests know exactly what they want – and what they are getting themselves into – so we assure they realize their expectations for a memorable experience.
A Phoenix hiking tours group pauses for a memorable vacation picture with a breathtaking Sonoran Desert landscape behind them.
A Phoenix hiking tours group pauses for a memorable vacation picture with a breathtaking Sonoran Desert landscape behind them.

Trust Wild Bunch for adventure tours in Phoenix
With apologies to Jake and his band of merry men from State Farm Insurance, Phoenix adventure tours guests with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides are in good hands, too.

Our guides always do more than simply keep you and your family or travel party safe in the unfamiliar territory of the Sonoran Desert.
Rattlesnakes and cactus needles are among the thorniest of issues the Wild Bunch navigates on a daily basis.

However, we make sure to deliver on the small details that add up to a big difference – including complimentary items such as a souvenir stick of Wild Bunch-branded lip balm, custom water bottles, and higher-end snacks.

Wild Bunch also has helped celebrate many special occasions – from engagements to anniversaries to birthdays – just make sure to inform us prior to the big day so we can be sure to add an amazing flair to the proceedings.

And except for the clothes on your back, the Wild Bunch provides everything needed for your tailored adventure – from hiking backpacks to bike helmets and even the bikes themselves.

Best yet? Every one of the Phoenix adventure tours from the Wild Bunch is a private, personalized, once-in-a-lifetime experience for your eyes only. Never will your group also include a bunch of “randos” thrown into maximize profits.

Joe from Joliet and his girlfriend Paula from Palatine can get their own excursion. Same for the Tappa Kegga Bru Fraternity enjoying Spring Break from their anonymous college back East.

NEVER will those groups be combined like they are on the adventures offered by the big box retailers. The Wild Bunch experience is made to be a special, intimate experience -- built to delight our guests by providing memorable perks and five-star customer service more special than a bottle of water and a “thank you” barked through a bullhorn.

The Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours from the Wild Bunch are licensed, insured and permitted for a 1:7 ratio of guides to guests – but most groups are much smaller than the maximum and we like it that way to increase the quality of the experience.

Even our large group corporate events are limited to 25 or fewer guests -- much smaller than you will find at the big Brand X operators down the street – and for the same quality concerns.

After all, Wild Bunch never wanted to herd cattle.

Instead, we want to be “Cheers” – welcoming to all ages and abilities -- and where we got to know everybody’s name -- while delivering the best custom-fit experiences and personal touch every time out.


Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren (right, foreground) leads up a hill a Phoenix hiking tours group (background).

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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