Phoenix Adventure Tours salute our heroes

Phoenix Adventure Tours salute our heroes

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • May 28, 2021

“We had a great experience with Wild Bunch. Laurel was great about setting expectations and was really good at being in touch and informative. Our guide Rebel was just perfect. She had two different levels of riders with my husband and me and was able to take care of both of us. She stopped to make sure we learned about the desert and took some great photos for our memories. Highly recommend.” – Diana Franken Witherspoon on Facebook, March 12, 2018


Among the many freedoms we enjoy because of our Memorial Day heroes? Three Wild Bunch Desert Guides, including owner Laurel Darren (left), enjoy Prickly Pear popsicles after a Scottsdale mountain bike tour.
Among the many freedoms we enjoy because of our Memorial Day heroes? Three Wild Bunch Desert Guides, including owner Laurel Darren (left), enjoy Prickly Pear popsicles after a Scottsdale mountain bike tour.


Memorial Day is the final Monday in May each year. The federal holiday serves as an unofficial start to summer, with countless graduations, family reunions and special events filling up a busy, extended weekend.

However, the aptly named national break also offers us all a perfect time for reflection, with Memorial Day commemorating the men and women who died while in the military service of our great country -- particularly those killed in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in combat.

So, set your watch and please take a pause from your fun this Memorial Day -- A national moment of remembrance occurs at 3 p.m. local time to honor those that made the ultimate sacrifice for the many freedoms we enjoy.

As the owner and operator of a highly rated Phoenix adventure tour company, I know I am especially grateful to our many heroes – and I do not contain my gratitude to one day or a mere clock stroke.

I mean, in what other country in the world could the Wild Bunch Desert Guides even exist to show tourists and travelers a great time on a Phoenix hiking trip, Scottsdale mountain bike tour or guided Camelback Mountain hike?

Where else could you enjoy the breath-taking beauty of the Sonoran Desert, or the thrill-ride of rushing over a rocky landscape on a mountain bike, or hug one of our majestic Saguaro Cactus?

As the late “Father of Rock ‘N Roll” Chuck Berry wrote, I am so glad I am living in the U.S.A!

Bless our Memorial Day heroes for making possible guided Scottsdale mountain biking, where a smiling father and son duo (pictured) can enjoy some quality time together in breathtaking surroundings.

Bless our Memorial Day heroes for making possible guided Scottsdale mountain biking, where a smiling father and son duo
(pictured) can enjoy some quality time together in breathtaking surroundings.


 
Phoenix Adventure Tours reflections
Over the last month, I have been attending meditative healing and spiritual awakening classes here in the Valley of the Sun.

Be nice! Do not laugh! I know it sounds a little trippy! But hear me out!

I have been delighted to find these classes truly have helped me to relax my over-worked mind and think about things in my life that have opened my heart and made me exceptionally happy.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of those things are connected to business at my Phoenix adventure tour company.

So, I have found myself the last few weeks in a rather reflective mood with Wild Bunch Desert Guides zooming past our fifth-year anniversary in March with our busiest month on record. And then April happened and beat that month. May has not slowed down, either, as we head into the triple-digit heat of the Arizona summer and reduced hours for safety precautions.

I recently have found myself telling guests on the phone or in conversations out on the trails, “You know, five years ago when I first opened the business, I didn’t have enough start-up money, so I found myself doing this or that.”

Or, while talking to a Concierge at one of the swanky resorts Wild Bunch regularly works with now, they will say, “I remember when you first came in here with your sparkly eyes and your glitter and crazy socks and three-color hair.”

WOW! All of those memories are fun to recall when you think about where Wild Bunch currently is now and where we are going.

Because of our Memorial Day heroes, Americans are allowed to travel freely in their country and are exposed to all sorts of experiences. (Pictured) A Wild Bunch guide (right) shows a group of children one of the many species of cactus in Arizona's Sonoran Desert.

Because of our Memorial Day heroes, Americans are allowed to travel freely in our country and are exposed to all sorts of
experiences. (Pictured) A Wild Bunch guide (middle) shows two guests one of the many species of cactus in Arizona's
Sonoran Desert.

 

Phoenix Adventure Tours slow start
Five years ago, I was like a teenager in love, jumping into business without really knowing what I was getting into or understanding the hard work or the many hoops we would have to jump through.

I had a passion for guiding guests on Phoenix adventure tours, but I needed to learn the bottom line of the business. And I know I am still learning something new every day, every week, and every month.

I remember when my former husband Bill and I first started the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

Actually, it was Bill’s idea for me to have something he knew was my purpose in life.

With the meditative healing and spiritual classes I attend now, it has come to the surface that I was meant to do what I do for a living, and that is to guide, teach and show people a good time while mountain biking in Scottsdale and hiking in Phoenix.

Five years ago, when we started the Wild Bunch, Bill literally emptied half of his savings account to get the business started.

I also will never forget that Bill did all of the research and handled everything with the permits for the City of Scottsdale and dealt with the insurance companies.

So, I have ALWAYS made sure to give Bill his props – and am especially appreciative now -- for him seeing who I am, believing in my purpose and having the great wisdom to know where I needed to go on this twisting, ever-changing journey of life.

There was a lot of personal doubts back at the beginning, let me tell you.

I remember spending many days at our old apartment in absolute tears because the phone never rang.

Or I would call Bill 3-4 times per day asking if any bookings had come in.

Despite my industry contacts and network of guests as a guide previously for other Phoenix adventure tours, nobody was booking with the Wild Bunch.

So, I was haunted by fears this dream could ever happen.

A young woman smiles into her cellphone camera while posing with three of her family members for a

A young woman smiles into her cellphone camera while posing with three of her family members for a "selfie" photo during
a Wild Bunch Desert Guides Scottsdale hike in Arizona's picturesque Sonoran Desert. Because of the sacrifices of our
Memorial Day heroes, Americans are able to enjoy such activities every day, including during the holiday devoted to those
losing their lives in war fighting for our freedoms.



Phoenix Adventure Tours rocky middle
Slowly but surely, though, Wild Bunch Desert Guides found solid footing by delivering customizable guided Scottsdale mountain biking tours and guided Phoenix hiking trips.

The way it works best is, after receiving a booking, I personally contact the guest to ensure their guided Phoenix adventure tour is fit perfectly to their fitness and skill levels, as well as their wants, needs, desires and overall vision. Families and groups are especially tricky, but at Wild Bunch we take the time to consider the enjoyment of every guest.

That is the secret to our success in seeing the Wild Bunch bookings grow steadily.

And with that growth, the staff also increased to include another guide, then another, and then another – each one of them a fabulous and fascinating person.

All those days of going to Scottsdale resorts to network, all the hours of driving around and leaving brochures at Phoenix hotels, all the times I have put my Wild Bunch stickers at a bar in Old Town Scottsdale.

All that legwork was finally paying off by January and February of 2020, when my mom-and-pop specialty shop was finally rolling with our best months to date.

The Wild Bunch also was gaining local, national, and even international media attention, as well as fantastic five-star reviews from TripAdvisor, Google, and Yelp.

But then the CoVid-19 pandemic hit state side and business came to a frighteningly fast halt.

I have shared in previous Blogs that harrowing St. Patrick’s Day at Phoenix’s Dubliner Irish Pub when every future Wild Bunch booking was cancelled and wiped off the board.

Bill ended up securing a tiny Small Business Administration loan to help the business survive in the short term, but your favorite Phoenix adventure tours guide and her company failed to qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program, because I am a sole proprietor with independent contractors.

To make ends meet during the uncertainty of the pandemic, I took a job as a full-time delivery driver to help pay the bills, keep my sanity by remaining busy, and to make sure a sliver of hope stayed alive.

The heroes we celebrate on Memorial Day made it possible for Americans to enjoy activities such as Phoenix hiking and beautiful sites including an Arizona sunset. (Pictured) A group of five friends enjoy both items during one of the Phoenix adventure tours with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

The heroes we celebrate on Memorial Day made it possible for Americans to enjoy activities such as Phoenix hiking and beautiful sites including
an Arizona sunset. (Pictured) A group of five friends enjoy both items during one of the Phoenix adventure tours with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.


 
Phoenix Adventure Tours now
Fortunately, as the pandemic evolved and more was learned about the benefits of being outside and exercising in socially distanced activities, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides were allowed to slowly return.

The tourists also began trickling back to the Valley of the Sun, and so the guests returned for guided Scottsdale mountain bike tours and guided Phoenix hiking adventures.

Since New Year’s Day, I have a hard time remembering what I ate for lunch – or if I ate at all – because I have become so busy.

Now, I am always on the phone, seemingly taking calls back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back like boxcars on a train.

Now, there is an avalanche of emails waiting every time I open my inbox.

Now, the Resort Concierge’s know me by name and think of my little mom-and-pop custom shop first when guests ask about fun things to do in the Sonoran Desert.

There have been days this spring when I was forced to turn off the online booking feature because we were completely sold out.

It is truly amazing and staggeringly awesome how the Wild Bunch has grown.

And so, I am grateful to all of the people and all of the support I have received over the last five years.

I am grateful for my wonderfully talented and incredibly loyal guides.

I am grateful for all the amazing guests, especially our many die-hard repeaters who can best appreciate our journey.

I am grateful to my trusted network of industry friends and confidants.

I am grateful to my boyfriend Brett, who makes countless sacrifices to remain at my side.

However, on this Memorial Day, I am especially grateful to those many fallen heroes we should all be thinking about because they have done the heaviest lifting to ensure we all enjoy the day filled with graduations … and family reunions … and special events … and mountain biking in Scottsdale and hiking in Phoenix with the Wild Bunch.

Laurel Darren, owner and operator of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, pauses during a guided Phoenix hike with the beautiful Valley of the Sun in the 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 www.wildbunchdesertguides.com or call 602-663-0842.



 

Summer Tours on SALE!

Use code SUMMER21 when checking out online to get a 15% discount on your tour.
 

Summer Hours

Summer is here and that brings special hours for tours. Click here for details.

Summer in Phoenix - Hiking & Mtn Biking Tours

Featured Reviews

Matt was our guide. He did an excellent job of judging our fitness and our level of interest in information about the area. He was very willing to answer questions. Best of all he gave us a great hike that we could not have done or fully appreciated on our own. The pace was not too slow or too fast and was a little bit challenging all the way. He was well prepared and brought all the supplies we needed. I showed up with only good sneakers and a hat. Someone let on that it was my birthday and when we got to the summit, he even had a birthday snack for me. I like doing tours while traveling and this was a good one. Well worth it as a private for two people. I would do another one of their tours or a second route on this same Sonora Desert hike through Squaw Peak.

- Ben A.

I met Laurel of Wild Bunch Dessert Guides in June 2017. We were both on the crew supporting an ultra-bicyclist in the Race Across America. Laurel is a fellow Iowan and we bonded quickly over that and over our love of the outdoors. I liked her outgoing and adventure seeking personality right away. In the 3000 miles of the Race Across America, (an endurance bicycle race from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD) lifelong friendships are forged and sometimes lost. I know that Laurel will be a lifelong friend. Laurel’s outdoor experience is vast. She’s a seasoned hiker and cyclist (of all types): road bike, mountain bike, single speed, fat bike, and she “gets” what it takes to work with people of all experience and capabilities. She is also an excellent guide and is very perceptive as she listens to what “her groups” are interested in whether it be bike or hike! Her primary focus in planning hikes or bike rides, is to make things fun as well as safe, at the same time taking care of and respecting nature. I love hugging cactus with her! She is well respected among her peers and she is called upon for support not only to race herself, but to promote, volunteer and crew for many different types of athletic events. Laurel also has an excellent rapport with people of all ages. She has taught hiking and riding skills to both young children and the elderly, and every age in between. Her ability to communicate with a variety of people is what inspires them to “go for it” and meet their challenges and exceed their dreams whether it’s biking or hiking or taking on a new adventure. I look forward to taking many more exciting adventures with Laurel!

- Jill T.

See All Reviews