Hunt for ‘Easter Eggs’ on Phoenix hiking tours

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • March 26, 2024
With an interesting rock formation in the background, Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus shines under the bright sun of Arizona's Sonoran Desert.(TOP) With an interesting rock formation in the background, Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus shines under the bright sun of Arizona's Sonoran Desert. (COVER) During an "Easter Egg Hunt" for natural treasurers like these, a family is all smiles while on one of the Phoenix hiking tours from the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.



An Easter Egg Hunt is annually a highlight of the holiday for the young and old alike.

I know as a kid I always looked forward to finding all of the goodies left behind by Peter Cottontail.

And having grown up to work on countless charity versions of these wonderful scrambles, seeing little faces light up and children shriek with joy is the greatest reward ever for volunteer work.

However, in my “real job” as the owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, I am able to experience that same warm feeling during guided Phoenix hiking tours.

And best yet, the good vibes are not confined to only Easter Sunday.

Oh, sure, I will have groups going out again on the holiday to discover the many exotic treasures awaiting them in the Sonoran Desert.

But every day with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides offers guests a chance to treat themselves to some Easter-colored eye candy.

I cannot promise you will see all of these cool things on one of our guided Phoenix adventure tours -- but experiencing a few makes the fun even better and more memorable.

A Wild Bunch guest gives a Saguaro Cactus a hug.

A Wild Bunch guest gives a Saguaro Cactus a hug.


 
Phoenix hiking tours: The Flora
One guaranteed treat on any of the Wild Bunch’s 5-star rated excursions? Cactus. Lots of them. And not only the trademark of the old Southwest, the majestic Saguaro Cactus.

Even though I transplanted to Arizona from the Midwest more than a decade ago now, I am still in awe of the mighty Saguaro’s beauty.

And I see that same excitement now while leading guided Phoenix hiking tours.

Some guests even get the once-in-a-lifetime vacation picture of hugging one of these Jolly Green Giants with some Saguaros on the trails aging at the bottom, so the needles are falling off.

Any close encounter with a Saguaro is memorable because they can be so massive – with arms jutting in different directions and growing about a foot a decade for hundreds of years.

However, there are several different Cacti to discover during our totally private and completely customizable Phoenix adventure tours – and some you can even taste test!

The Prickly Pear is probably the next-best known of these because of the Prickly Pear Margarita. Few know the American Natives harvested the Prickly Pear as a fruit, or that this is the most widely distributed of the edible Cactus.

The Wild Bunch Desert Guides even provide guests with this treat -- Prickly Pear Lip Balm from AZ Sun Products – to help protect lips from the harsh effects of the Arizona sun.

The other popular Cactus that everybody asks about is the Jumping Cholla or Teddy-Bear Cactus.

It looks all fuzzy and cuddly – but don’t try and snuggle with it. If you get too close, a Teddy-Bear Cholla has segments that break off and stick 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.

That is why our guides carry tweezers or pliers and duct tape or orange glue.

The Staghorn and Buckhorn Cholla are all along the trails, too – and also like to get free rides from guests.

Besides the Cactus, there are wildflowers blooming every year to sprinkle all sorts of color into an exotic landscape.

The spring wildflower season -- from late February through April before the summer heat gets turned up -- is the best time to witness an Easter Egg palette of white, pink, red, yellow and lavender splashed across the desert floor.

Seeing the elusive Gila Monster is akin to winning the lottery.

Seeing the elusive Gila Monster is akin to winning the lottery.


 
The Fauna on Phoenix hiking tours
Attracted by the wide array of colorful plant life, Hummingbirds are most common during wildflower season in the Valley of the Sun.

The Sonoran Desert also is home to everything from Bald Eagles to Harris Hawks, and from Woodpeckers to Wrens.

And just like on the Saturday morning cartoons, you can see a roadrunner and a coyote on guided Phoenix hiking tours.

However, unlike the Looney Tunes characters, the roadrunners are not tall -- nor do they go “Meep! Meep!” The iconic birds of the Southwest are actually really tiny.

And the coyotes do not shop at Acme – nor walk upright – much less bother with humans.

However, an animal to avoid is the Javelina -- a cross between the Arkansas Razorback mascot and Pumba from the Lion King.

The Javelina is nocturnal -- so they are normally only seen at dawn or dusk -- but they are aggressive and travel in packs. So, you need to give them their space.

But that is why guests book with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

Expert guides help keep your party safe -- and if anything, out of the ordinary should ever happen -- my staff is medically trained to take care of the situation.

Another sticky situation that comes up is when Phoenix adventure tours run into a Rattlesnake or Western Diamondback.

Both snakes start showing themselves on the trails in mid-March when it warms up, so April is prime time to see them slither across the desert floor.

With Rattlesnakes, the only time you really need to be super careful is when they coil up and start rattling. With Diamondbacks, we just try and not bother them.

Our Wild Bunch guides know what to do, though.

Typically, we stop so guests can take pictures and admire the venomous vipers – and then we find a safe way around the snake outside of any striking distance.

We never throw rocks or hit snakes with sticks. Simply tapping the ground with a stick often is enough to drive them away.

Some other reptiles you might see during guided Phoenix hiking tours include the Gila Monster, the Desert Tortoise and the Chuckwalla Lizard.

The Chuckwallas are the most ubiquitous of the three. They are also the cutest little things.

Gila Monsters are harder to find than Sasquatch or the Loch Ness Monster. We tell guests if they see one of these cool reptiles to play the Lottery or head to the Las Vegas casinos because this is obviously their lucky day.

There are longtime Arizona residents who have never seen a Gila Monster – so they are considered the rarest of the Easter Eggs to find in the Sonoran Desert.

The Desert Tortoise is another rare treasure.

However, unlike the cat-quick Gila Monster, the Tortoise is SLOOOOOOW enough to snap a picture or three if lucky enough to see one on the trails. And the one I have seen in my 12 years in the Valley of the Sun was walking on the trail and not hiding in his shell!

Sunsets on Phoenix hiking tours are among the most beautiful in the world.
Sunsets on Phoenix hiking tours are among the most beautiful in the world.


 
Sunrise & sunset hiking tours Phoenix
The other natural treasures to behold in the Sonoran Desert include the exotic, other-worldly landscape of majestic rock faces and the fantastically consistent warm weather in the spring.

But the best of the Easter Eggs to discover is a trademark sunrise or sunset during guided Phoenix hiking tours.

Especially at sundown, Cotton Candy-colored skies and luscious Lavender clouds often mix for a  breathtaking sight.

We often have to remind guests to grab a couple of pictures on their phone.

Full moons in the Sonoran Desert also are incredible enough to allow for hiking without the aid of flashlights because the lighting is so awesome.

However, some of the parks and preserves do not allow Phoenix adventure tours at night – and that is another reason why you book with Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

We do not offer the cookie-cutter, cattle-call bus tour. None of our outings follow the same tired script.

That is because the Wild Bunch takes the time to discover what you want to do – and what trails best fit the skills of you, your family or travel party – and then we help you find the Easter Eggs you desire the most.

Bunny Ears and Easter Baskets are optional.


Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren with the Easter BunnyThe Easter Bunny with Wild Bunch owner Laurel Darren.

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 www.wildbunchdesertguides.com or call 602-663-0842.



 

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