New year, same great Phoenix hiking tours

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • January 17, 2022

“We are repeat customers (2018 & 2020) with our 10-year-old son. A perfect family activity/memory. Always the highlight of our trip!!” – Heather, Portland, Ore., on Tripadvisor, Jan. 2020

A married couple pauses for a photo with a picturesque Old Southwest backdrop during one of the Phoenix hiking tours from the Wild Bunch Desert Guides. 
A married couple pauses for a photo with a picturesque Old Southwest backdrop during one of the Phoenix hiking tours from the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

Every year on Jan. 1, I find myself saying, “I need to cut out soda.”
My doctor certainly agrees after harping on me the entire calendar year.
But the first thing I do is find a reason to get a Mountain Dew -- and that is when I remind myself, “I’m going to start that Monday.”
Then Monday comes and goes, and I kick that pop can down the road -- again and again -- until by Martin Luther King Jr. Day I finally surrender by muttering, “Boy, I sure blew that one!”
Friends and regular readers of this Blog all know how impossible that goal sounds for this owner of Scottsdale/Phoenix adventure tours.
Mountain Dew is my vice and addiction – and just like my passion for guiding Phoenix hiking tours or Scottsdale mountain bike tours -- I need my daily fix.
The ridiculousness of resolutions like that is the main reason I avoid ever making any promises to myself on New Year’s Day.
Instead, when I look in the mirror at myself, I do not go, “Oh my God, I need to lose 20 pounds!”
My focus sounds much simpler but is actually much harder.
The resolve I try and muster daily is the ability to say, “Hey, I'm going to participate in whatever comes my way and find the joy in any situation.”
Discovering that happiness was the challenge in 2021 and I believe is the necessary goal again in 2022 for myself and my small mom-and-pop specialty shop, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.


A Wild Bunch group of hikers descends a hill during a recent Phoenix adventure tour. Every Wild Bunch Desert Guides outing is a completely customizable private journey restricted to only you and your family or friends.

Guiding a Phoenix hiking tours guide
Out of the blue the other night, I called John Duffin.
You might have met John last month in this Blog after I helped the Philadelphia media veteran reach the top of Camelback Mountain.
“Dude, I need your help now,” I said to John. “My tank is really low. I need to talk to a positive person to give me a boost.”
My spiritual healer always tells me that my energy is so strong – and it radiates so much that it effects other people. But when my energy level is low, it is like a volcano erupted and there is nothing left.
So, when I crash, I crash and burn SUPER HARD.
John asked a simple question: “What’s going on?”
I told him I feel like I have been in a lot of conflicts lately. 
I asked him, “Have you ever felt like you know in your heart you're right, but the person on the other end of the line is arguing with you even though they know in their heart that they're wrong? Or if you can prove to them that they are wrong, they still just won't give in and give up?”
I also have had some unexpected challenges thrown my way recently with the health and well-being of both my mother and my loyal hiking pal, my Plot hound Daisy Mae.
So, John asked me: “Laurel, what is the one thing that brings you the most joy?”
And besides my boyfriend Brett and our dogs, my answer was “riding my mountain bike.”
So, John’s advice was to get back in the seat and pedal away those negative thoughts and feelings.
“Get back to basics,” John advised.
That was a great reminder of my path to continued success in 2022.
Personally, I love biking and hiking – and I also love guiding – so the Wild Bunch Desert Guides is a perfect marriage of my passions.
That is why I tell people I have the greatest job imaginable.
What brings me the most happiness is when I have someone like John who does not think they can do something -- and I am in that moment with them when they do overcome what they believed was impossible.
The refrain always seems the same: “We gotta go up there? Oh no, I'll never make it.” 
Next thing you know, we are all standing on top of the world.
That brings me such satisfaction – and that happens on Tom’s Thumb or another of our harder journeys that we offer in our menu of Phoenix AZ hiking tours.
That truly drives me in business to continue to do what I and my company do every day.
I also get a lot of joy from interacting with our guests.
We meet so many great people and some become great friends. Like John, many open up and talk about all sorts of things on a hike. Sometimes people really let you in on personal stuff or when they call, they really let you in like “Here's the background or the back story.” 
You do not become a guide unless you want to help people find their joy. I mean, why else would you do it otherwise?

A father (center) enjoys some quality time with his children during a Wild Bunch Desert Guides hike in Phoenix AZ. While dad holds the hand of his daughter (left), they watch his son (right) descend a colorful Cactus dotted hill. 

A father (center) enjoys some quality time with his children during a Wild Bunch Desert Guides hike in Phoenix AZ. While dad holds the hand of his
daughter (left), they watch his son (right) descend a colorful Cactus dotted hill.

Simple joys: Hiking tours Phoenix AZ
When I look back at 2021, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides not only got through all the challenges but experienced so many highlights by following the mantra, “Keep it simple.”
I thankfully saw my little boutique business bounce back from 2020’s shutdowns to actually grow and expand.
We experienced a lot of success, and I am extremely grateful, but this still is a weird world, and as a business owner I still have to be ready for any curveballs coming our way.
That is the biggest thing I have learned from the last few years is to be extremely flexible – to have a Plan B, C, D and E -- and be ready to change and make some hard decisions.
Some crazy weather the last week of 2021 was a reminder of that and was a real microcosm of the year.
The last week of December was the dream for every owner of Scottsdale/Phoenix adventure tours -- we were completely sold out and had no availability. The only problem was we also had some of the worst weather that anyone would expect to encounter in Arizona. 
The weather was not only cold, but it was overcast, and rained somewhere in the Valley of the Sun every single day.
It does not rain very much here in Arizona, but the silver lining in those storm clouds is all the wet stuff will produce one of the best wildflower seasons ever in this state come March and April. So, people planning to come to Arizona this spring and doing a hike with the Wild Bunch are in for a real treat.
But for the final week of 2021, the rain was another curveball for us to adjust to like any good hitter in baseball or my first love softball.
Our cancellation policy clearly states that we will take people out in the rain if there is no lightning present – or it is not one of those torrential, Build-An-Ark all-day rains.
Except for one cancellation, we were able to get every tour out with some trailhead changes. We also were able to contact guests and move them to other start times by looking at the weather radar and getting them off trail on days before the rains came down. Lots of my guides did some heroic last-minute tours.
I am so proud of my staff.
New Year’s Day was awesome, too. 
I took out a mountain bike tour for a friend of mine -- the owner of Los Angeles Ale Works and her family. She went out with me as a solo rider about three years ago, and I was so honored when she called and told me that she wanted her family to go out with me. 
The Ale Works owner also was one of the guests that we moved up and switched days because of weather – and her flexibility was rewarded with some sunshine even though it was still cold.
My friend was over the moon that we were able to get them out and it was a great tour. She is a strong businesswoman, and that's great energy for me to be around, too.
The first couple of days of 2022, we were blessed to have some other really great guests, but now we are hitting a dead spot for the next few weeks.
That happens typically in January because the kids are back in school, and people are back home and back to work.
But just around the corner is the Barrett-Jackson World’s Greatest Car Collector Auction in Scottsdale.
The PGA Tour’s Phoenix Open also brings a ton of people and a fun atmosphere to the area in February.
Major League Baseball’s Spring Training usually gets going in late February, too – and we will see if baseball settles their labor issues, and we have some sort of spring training this year. But we also see a lot of spring breakers and weekend getaways in March.
However, I cannot help but wonder if this current slowdown also has to do with this whole new wave of COVID, which is causing people to think twice about traveling.
So, like a lot of business owners and Phoenix adventure tour operators, I feel a bit like we are back to the same place as last year fighting some unknowns among the usual challenges.
The latest COVID spike is because the Omicron variant is more contagious the experts tell us.
But those same experts also predict a rapid fall soon because it is not as strong as previous variants.
Even from the very start of the pandemic, the experts were urging people to get outside and get exercise – because it is so good for them physically, mentally, and spiritually.
The good news for the Wild Bunch Desert Guides is we offer that exercise – and we are among the safest activities for people to do.
We are in the great outdoors -- and you cannot get much more socially distanced than the Sonoran Desert.
We still operate under COVID protocols and sanitize all of our shared equipment.
And normally, you can count on great temperatures, lots of sunshine and fantastic landscapes in Arizona.
There always is something fun to do here.
Everyone can benefit, too -- as witnessed by all the available Phoenix ADA hiking trails, which we detailed in this previous Blog.
Every Wild Bunch adventure tour also is limited to you and your family or travel party.
A Phoenix hiking tour or Scottsdale mountain bike tour with us is completely private – you will not be joined by Bob from Buffalo, Tom from Toledo or Donna and her family from Detroit like you are on the typical tour with Brand X.
Four friends enjoy a
Four friends enjoy a "Girls Day Out" on a Wild Bunch Desert Guides hiking tour in Phoenix AZ. The foursome pauses for a photo here in front of a picturesque rocky backdrop. 

Resolution for guided Phoenix hikes
New for 2022, we have made some trailhead adjustments for where our Scottsdale/Phoenix adventure tours will meet unless guests request a customized starting point, and then we will put them out on the appropriate trailhead for those situations.
Also new, I am looking forward to the possibility of expanding my business into Colorado. 
A real highlight from 2021 was my stay there last summer in Lake City, as this Blog underscored.
I am still in the process of submitting the Bureau of Land Management permits, but as somebody who already holds a BLM permit in Arizona, I hope I am a shoo-in as a proven commodity.
If approved, Wild Bunch will be offering hiking tours to Colorado visitors from June 1 to Oct. 1.
I also am looking forward to hosting a mountain bike camp with my dear friend Mirna Valerio – the social media celebrity known better as The Mirnavator -- whom I became even closer with in 2021, as highlighted in this Blog after her epic visit around Mother’s Day.
I plan to share details of that camp soon in an upcoming Blog.
I am worried 2022 is still going to be a little bit unpredictable as we try to navigate in ever-changing circumstances.
However, that is why John Duffin’s advice remains simply perfect – GO BACK TO BASICS. KEEP IT SIMPLE.
So, the only resolution I made this New Year’s Eve was for business.
I resolved that the Wild Bunch Desert Guides will continue offering the hometown hospitality that a personal touch brings – so we keep delivering great customer service and customized adventures to visitors.
We also want to continue living up to our five-star reviews from TripAdvisor, Google, and Yelp.
Wild Bunch does that by fulfilling the dreams and desires of our guests with incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experiences – showing people the beauty of the Sonoran Desert and unlocking those hidden treasures during private guided tours.
With all of the unknowns and challenges out there, it is comforting to know some things remain consistently the same.
A lot of people are having a tough time finding happiness in their lives right now, so Wild Bunch simply wants to bring as much joy as we can to the world.


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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