Nobody loves the referees, it has been suggested, except by their families and friends -- and that's assuming those officials stay away from working a game involving a favorite team of those loved ones. If so, Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner and operator Laurel Darren is a notable exception – and for one very good reason after one of the Phoenix mountain bike tours she guided recently.
Hiking or Mountain Biking in Phoenix? Watch for these ‘Easter Eggs’
Laurel bumps into the Easter Bunny at a Phoenix-area store.
“Wild Bunch Desert Guides are the best! I have ridden with guides and have become friends with some of them. Laurel and Jay definitely are friends as of this writing. Laurel got back to me right away and set up a personalized tour after asking me a few questions about my skills and type of riding I was interested in. I met Jay at the trailhead and he was prepared with a new mountain bike, water, snacks and a great knowledge of the history, flora, fauna and a wonderful attitude. We chose (trails) in Scottsdale. Laurel recommended it as there are not many daunting climbs and the trails FLOW, FLOW, FLOW! Wild Bunch helped me discover some of the best mountain biking I have ever ridden! I would recommend these guys to anyone. Beginner or expert. And I will be back from work adventures with Laurel and Jay!” – Elvergelhouston, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, on Tripadvisor, July 2019
Easter helps mark my 10th anniversary living and playing in the paradise known as The Valley of the Sun.
Soon after I moved to Arizona in April 2012 from my hometown of the Quad Cities in Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, I celebrated the holiday like most “normal” people. I joined a friend from high school and her family for Easter dinner and the usual Easter Egg hunt for kids.
That was before I became an adventure tour guide and later the founding owner of the Wild Bunch Desert Guides, a highly rated Phoenix adventure tour company.
Ever since that first Easter in Arizona, I have marked the holiday by taking guests on a guided Phoenix mountain bike tour or guided Scottsdale hike in search of the many colorful and exotic “Easter Eggs” to be found in our beautiful Sonoran Desert.
I do not have kids, so I made sure my co-workers and now my guides get to enjoy the actual Easter Egg hunt with their children and families while I show our guests the many wonders of the holiday here in Arizona.
Plus, my boyfriend Brett is at another Scottsdale adventure tour company, so we just adjust and enjoy Easter dinner later after the sun has gone down with his family.
I love working the holiday now and seeing the faces of guests young and old coming in contact with hard-to-find flora and fauna.
I have never dressed up as the Easter Bunny for these Easter Egg hunts, even though I love dressing up in costume for special occasions. Unfortunately, it is just too darn hot to dress up here at this time of year.
However, I do wear Bunny Ears on my “Easter Bonnet” – also known as a bike helmet during every other day of the year.
The “Easter Basket” also is tad different in the desert – the treats are the goodies your guide carries for you in their backpack. The Wild Bunch sends out Peeps on the trails, hoping they do not melt. Chocolate Bunnies do not stand a chance, though, in mid-90s temperatures. Gummies are much more durable in this dry heat.
The “Easter Eggs” are dramatically different, too, and they come in many shapes, sizes, and shades.
I cannot promise you will see all of these cool things on one of our guided adventure tours in Phoenix but experiencing a few makes the fun even better and more memorable.
A couple of Wild Bunch mountain bike guests stand beneath an iconic Saguaro Cactus for a memorable photo.
THE Iconic Cactus
My first time driving into Arizona from Iowa & Illinois, I remember being in awe of the majestic beauty of the Saguaro Cactus.
I was like, “Oh my God, those are awesome!” And I see that same excitement now from first time visitors with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
Guests on a guided Scottsdale mountain bike tour or guided Phoenix hike definitely get a glimpse and some great pictures of these Jolly Green Giants. Some visitors to the Sonoran Desert even get to hug one of these iconic symbols of the old Southwest.
Some Saguaros are aging at the bottom, so the needles are falling off, where you can hug one if they are close enough to the trail where we are not promoting off-trail activities.
The Saguaro are fun for our guests to stand next to. It is a photo memory everybody wants. There are a few regular Cacti we take pictures with all the time because they are so huge.
Everybody is taken aback when they see a Saguaro up close and personal. They grow massive, about a foot a decade, and they grow to be hundreds of years old.
The Saguaro are the cactus you see in all the Old West movies. Think the backdrop of the Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons. Think “Tombstone” the movie. These are like the Redwoods in California or Mount Rushmore in the Dakotas or the Colorado Rockies or the Mississippi River cutting through the middle of the country. These Cacti are iconic Americana.
You could swear the Saguaro are almost human, too. Each has a personality of their own with arms contorting in all sorts of directions. All resemble something else – such as a peace sign or a football referee signaling a successful field goal.
A Wild Bunch guided mountain biking tour marvelling at the foot of a Saguaro Cactus.
The Prickly Pear
When I first moved to Arizona in 2012, the two things I thought were totally crazy was:
- Christmas lights hanging on Cactus instead of trees;
- Walking into a Safeway Grocery Store and finding Cactus in the produce section. I was like, “What?” But then I found out Cactus is actually good for you! The inside of the Prickly Pear Cactus is really spongey, and you can really clean your system out and lower your cholesterol and things like that.
The Wild Bunch Desert Guides even provide our Phoenix guided mountain biking and Scottsdale guided hiking guests with Prickly Pear Lip Balm, which helps produce their lips from the harsh effects of the Arizona sun. AZ Sun Products makes the lip balm with our logo for our guests. We tell guests they are actually spreading Cactus on their lips, just without the needles.
The other popular Cactus that everybody asks about is the Jumping Cholla or Teddy-Bear Cactus.
It looks all fuzzy and cuddly and nice and you can snuggle with it at night. But the reality is it is vicious and loves clinging to tourists.
If you get too close to a Teddy-Bear Cholla, it has segments that break off and sticks to you like Velcro.
When that happens, the natural reaction is to grab it with your hand and the next thing you know it is on your shoes, your hands, your hair, everywhere. The needles have microscopic fishhooks on the ends, so when they stick to you, they really dig in there.
So, our guides carry tweezers and pliers and duct tape and orange glue and even a pizza or Burger King Whopper to get those needles out of you.
The funny thing is the Teddy-Bear Cactus also can be eaten in a desert survival situation. It is one of the few edible Cacti.
Most guides only have guests take hiking and mountain biking photos in Phoenix from afar.
However, some of our Wild Bunch guides do a demonstration with the Teddy-Bear. Crazy West Virginian Rebel actually puts it on her arm to show how it sticks and pulls her skin up. I will step on one to show it sticking to the bottom of my shoe, but I am not as crazy as Rebel.
Some guides burn the needles off when we do not have a fire ban. When you get the needles off, it looks like a Desert Pickle and you can handle it, but otherwise we have to handle them with pliers to cut them open and show what the inside looks like.
The Staghorn and Buckhorn Cholla are all along the trails, too. We see them the most and so they are the Cactus that receives the most free rides from guests on their gloves or handlebars from mountain bike tours Scottsdale brushing by them when whizzing past on the trails.
Rattlesnakes sometimes sun themselves on the trails.
Snakes on the Plain
Either people want to see a Rattlesnake, or they do not.
So, of course, the only time we see a Rattler on one of the Wild Bunch Desert Guides adventure tours in Scottsdale is with the guests that absolutely do not want to see one of the venomous vipers.
Every morning when we have kids coming out for guided Phoenix hiking tours or guided Scottsdale mountain biking, I do take the time to email every Rattlesnake in the Metro area to PLEASE make an appearance, but it does not always work.
The other snake you might see on a Wild Bunch tour is the Western Diamondback. We see those snakes quite often.
The snakes start showing themselves on the trails in mid-March when it warms up, so April is prime time to see them slither in the Sonoran Desert.
It is not weird to see a Rattler or Diamondback stretched out across the trail.
With any Rattlesnakes, the only time you really need to be super careful is when they coil up and start rattling. That means it is GAME ON.
Our Wild Bunch guides know what to do, though. We just try and not bother them.
Typically, we stop so guests can take pictures and admire either snake from a really safe distance. Then, we either pave around the snake, putting our bike between the snake and the guests and go way around outside the snake’s striking distance or we tap a stick on the ground in hopes of driving the snake to slither off. We do not hit the snake or throw rocks.
I have only had one insane incident in my time as a guide, when a Rattler came out of nowhere to possibly strike at my back tire on one of our guided mountain bike trips Phoenix.
I am not sure the snake struck because I did not see it, but I felt something bump my tire and a big giant Mojave – the most poisonous of the bunch – dropped on to the trail between me and my best friend.
I must have said the “F” word 500 times, my heart rate was going 500 mph, and my buddy Fred was taking photos. He loved it. The snake hopped up because it stood up like a Snake Charmer was playing music. The snake was just there smiling for photos for Fred, but I was freaked out.
This was when I worked for another Arizona adventure travel tour company, and I had to apologize to our guests, Fred included.
Fred and I are still great friends. Every time I post a Facebook or Instagram picture of me with a Rattlesnake, he always responds, like “Hey, I know that snake!”
Laurel's buddy in strike mode.
Wild Bunch Desert Guides had a group of veterinarians one time call and say they would only book a Scottsdale guided hike with us if they would see a snake and a Gila Monster.
And, of course, I said, “I can’t promise that.”
Gila Monsters are really COOL, but we tell guests if they see one to play the Lottery because there are longtime Arizona residents who have never seen one. They might be the rarest of the Easter Eggs to find in the Sonoran Desert.
One of the Wild Bunch guided adventure tours did see a Gila Monster the other day, but the problem is we think they have all been coached by somebody to stand there and look at you and appear friendly and smile. But then you scramble for your camera in your backpack to get a picture, and as soon as you are ready, that elusive lizzard pulls a disappearing act. The Gila Monster truly is a magician.
We always joke about that. I will say, “Did anybody have their camera ready?" No one can get a picture of one! It is like Sasquatch. People swear they have seen it but proving that is another thing entirely.
Another rare Easter Egg is a Desert Tortoise. Unlike the Gila Monster, though, they are SLOOOOOOW enough to get a picture if lucky enough to see one on the trails. The one I have seen was walking on the trail and not hiding in his shell. Pretty cool! So. channelling the guy from Waterworld, “The Desert Tortoise is not a myth! I’ve seen it!”
We also see all types of birds, from Bald Eagles to Harris Hawks, and from Gila Woodpeckers to Cactus Wrens.
And a constant we see on a Camelback Mountain guided hike is the Chuckwalla Lizard. They are so little and cute.
You can pretty much see the entire Looney Tunes cast of characters out there including Coyotes and Roadrunners.
However, be prepared the roadrunners are not tall and nor do they go “Meep! Meep!” They are actually really tiny. And the coyotes do not shop at Acme.
Coyotes are actually pretty cool. They are just hanging out. You just do not bother them.
An animal to really steer clear of, though, is the Javelina. They are a cross between the Arkansas Razorback mascot, Pumba from the Lion King, a Wild Boar, and a pig.
They also are called a collared peccary. They are a crepuscular animal. They are nocturnal. A dawn or dusk type of animal and they are aggressive.
We have been cycling in the morning on the roads and they will come out in their packs. You just must give them their space.
But that also is why guests book with the Wild Bunch. Expert guides help keep your party safe and if anything out of the ordinary should ever happen, the Wild Bunch is medically trained to take care of the situation.
(TOP) A rare Wild Bunch photo of a Gila Monster. (MIDDLE) A desert tortoise pic shot by Wild Bunch guide Jay Stewart. (BOTTOM) A
Chuckwalla sighted on a Camelback Mountain hike.
If you have never been to Arizona, the Sonoran Desert is the lushest in the world in terms of flora and fauna.
Right now, there are a lot of browns and greens, because the Phoenix area has been especially dry this winter, with less than two inches of rain.
However, typically The Valley of the Sun pops with a lot of colors in the spring when Mother Nature has done more than spit on us.
Wildflowers are an amazing Easter Egg palette of colors to behold with whites and pinks and reds mixing with yellows and lavenders.
Wild Bunch Desert Guides was overjoyed to see some wildflowers blooming this week during Phoenix guided hikes and Scottsdale guided mountain bike tours.
The Golden Poppies are starting to show, and the Fiddlenecks are out, along with some other flowers.
The Poppy is the most popular. They are really beautiful.
The Cactus are starting to bloom, too. The Hedgehog Cactus has a magenta-colored flower. The Buckhorn and Staghorn Chollas have a pinkish-maroon flower.
Prickly Pears, Brittlebush, Red Tupelos. There really is an amazing array of plants to behold.
There also are flowers called Fairy Dusters and Blue Dicks. Let me tell you, they are quite the couple. And for the readers with pornographic minds out there, shame on you.
Also, if you REALLY want to do Camelback Mountain with thousands of other tourists, you can see Gerardo from New Jersey’s butt the entire way up and then gaze at the back of his sister Cecilia’s head on the way down. Anything is worth it if you reach the summit, though, the views are amazing, especially in the Springtime with all the colors.
A Wild Bunch mountain biking group basks in the glow of the Sonoran Desert wildflowers.
Come for the climate …
Another Easter Egg is the sunny and warm weather.
Our temperatures right now in Phoenix and Scottsdale are in the mid-90s for Easter Sunday. So, the climate is awesome in April, allowing us to go out at any time of the day and making mornings and evenings especially nice.
However, Wild Bunch Desert Guides tries to make sure that Easter Egg does not become egg on the face of our guests, especially those from the Midwest or East Coast, who maybe were cooped up during the pandemic and are just not quite ready yet for the rising temperatures of a pottery kiln.
The dry heat in Arizona can sneak up on tourists fast.
When I moved here in April 2012, I was laughing at everyone back home in the Midwest because I was in awesome weather while they were not – still battling cold and rainy conditions.
But every day at 2 p.m., I would get a faint headache because I would get dehydrated.
So, I had to learn you have to have water on you all the time, but the problem is, if you leave it in the car, it turns into hot tea. You also learn that leaving chapstick and stuff like that in your car is a no-no because it will melt.
It was a really hard adjustment that first spring and summer I was here.
My first hike was up Camelback Mountain, and it was hard. It put me in a spot where I felt like I needed to get in better shape -- and I already was in good shape at that point, having run marathons, competed in triathlons, and participated in mountain bike races.
My first road bike ride in Arizona, I jumped on a bike and rode from Phoenix to Tucson with a group and that was a big eye-opener, too.
They rode backroads in the Sonoran Desert, and it was crazy intense. It was in April. I had decided to jump into this ride to meet people and I was dying. It was beautiful but I definitely needed to drink more water and stay hydrated. It was hot, hot, hot.
I had to adjust to drinking more water. I needed to use more lotion to hydrate my skin because I found my skin got rougher in this heat. Chapstick and sun block are huge here.
The Wild Bunch Desert Guides are all well-trained and well-prepared for hydration problems. We carry hydration capsules and powder. We carry tons of water and Gatorade. We have everything needed to keep our guests safe and successful out there.
And we ask our guests to start hydrating before even arriving for one of our guided mountain bike trips Scottsdale or guided hiking Phoenix experiences.
A breathtaking Sonoran Desert sunset.
… Stay for the Sunsets
The Grand Poohbah of Easter Eggs is definitely an Arizona sunset on a Wild Bunch Desert Guide adventure tour.
Here in The Valley of the Sun, we are known for our Cotton Candy skies and our Lavender clouds at sundown. The sunsets truly are breathtaking.
That is why we offer guided sunset hikes Scottsdale and guided sunset mountain bike tours Phoenix.
The scenery is pretty amazing, too, with the majestic rock faces.
Also, full moons in the Sonoran Desert are incredible.
You can hike during a full moon basically without flashlights because the lighting is so awesome.
Some of the parks and preserves allow hiking and biking at night, but some do not. For instance, you can hike and bike at night in the city of Phoenix, but you cannot do either in the city of Scottsdale’s preserves.
And a city ordinance does not allow Camelback Mountain Scottsdale Hiking Tours before sunrise or after sunset, either, because the adventure could be so treacherous in the dark.
That is why you book with Wild Bunch, though.
We know all the ins and outs, the dos and don’ts, and where to go and where to avoid in an effort to make every day as eventful and enjoyable as an Easter Egg hunt.