Phoenix adventure tours ‘Come Together’

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • December 11, 2023
A husband pauses to take a picture of his wife posing in front of a picturesque backdrop on one of the Wild's Bunch's Phoenix mountain bike tours.(TOP) Surrounded by Sonoran Desert flora, a husband pauses to take a picture of his wife posing in front of a picturesque backdrop on one of the Wild's Bunch's Phoenix mountain bike tours. (COVER) A young family glows during one of the Wild Bunch's Phoenix hiking tours.



Forgive me if I sound a bit preachy in today’s sermon.

But with the holiday season upon us, and me in full Santa mode these days, I thought to myself during a commute the other day how important it is now for all of us to “Come Together,” as The Beatles first sang nearly 55 years ago.

After all, time with family and friends is precious and fleeting.

We only get to celebrate Christmas – or whatever seasonal holiday you observe -- so many times in our all-too-brief time on this planet.

As the past year has cruelly demonstrated again, loved ones can be taken from us in an instant and without any notice.

Just ask the countless families ripped apart by mass shootings in our country. Or the many victims in war-torn Ukraine. Or the thousands affected by the brutal Hamas terrorist attacks and resulting Israeli invasion of Gaza in only the last two months.

Indeed, it is easy to become numb to the pain and suffering because there is so much sadness in the world.

However, I instead choose to be motivated by the many tragedies to make each and every day the best I can for me and my family, friends and guests at my little mom-and-pop specialty shop, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

By living each day like it is my last, I hope I honor the memories of those who are no longer with us.

By being mindful of those mired in misery, I am able to remain thankful and grateful to enjoy the freedoms and joys that I do.

I also hope I bring a little sunshine into a sometimes-dark world by inspiring others to do the same – and spread the smiles across countless miles.

That is why I am especially looking forward to this holiday season when visitors from all over the world annually descend on my metaphorical backyard to escape the winter cold and enjoy some warm-weather fun in the Valley of the Sun.

Christmas Eve? Christmas Day? New Year’s Eve? New Year’s Day? No matter the holiday, there are once-in-a-lifetime experiences awaiting on my company’s guided Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours.

Santa Laurel’s bag of goodies is bursting with holiday adventure tales – but there is always room for many more!

And in honor of this time of gift-giving, the Wild Bunch is offering a 15-percent discount to all guests booking tours online from Dec. 1-Jan. 31. Use the online code WILD15. Blackout dates may apply.

A Wild Bunch guide (far right) explains what happened to make the cactus pictured to collapse and die.

A Wild Bunch guide (far right) explains to a Phoenix hiking tours group what happened to make the cactus pictured to collapse and die.
 

Togetherness on Phoenix adventure tours
Also heeding my message of unity prior to the annual holiday rush are some of my best friends and business mentors in the Phoenix adventure tours industry.

Together our companies have joined forces to formalize and strengthen the practice of sharing guides for the good of all – particularly our guests visiting our slice of paradise.

So whenever one of us is in need – usually for a large group outing – we rush to each other’s aid by sending extra guides to the front lines.

Sort of like a NATO for the old Southwest.

The idea was informed by my own experiences as both a guide and company owner.

Back when I started Wild Bunch Desert Guides – and we rented space to store our mountain bikes from our off-roading vehicle buddies Stellar Adventures – I mentioned to their operations manager Chad Turner one day, “If you ever need a Hummer driver, I'd be more than happy to help out!”

The next thing I knew, Chad had me behind the wheel, training me up on the individualized nuances for each of the military vehicles in their fleet – which by the way is maintained by my mechanic boyfriend Brett.

Each Hummer offers a unique experience, so you have to really know what you are doing – particularly in terms of brake modulation, which Chad taught me, and I now use to impress tour groups whenever I am called upon to pitch in and help Stellar.

It truly is fun to have every man in a Hummer look at me like I am a rock star when I bring up the subject while demonstrating my knowledge.

For nearly seven years now, I have been helping Stellar – and their owner and my business mentor JJ Briles.

I only get asked to help when they are in a pinch with a big tour group. But I love it – and it is super fun to be the only woman out there driving a Hummer.

Also, from time-to-time over the last five years, I have jumped in to help owner Jeff Slade with Sedona, Apache Trail and city tours with his Detours American West.

Back when I started, it was a way to earn extra vacation money if Wild Bunch bookings happened to be slow.

However, I quickly grew to love offering the bus tours – especially to the Red Rocks of Sedona. It is amazing to witness the reactions guests have upon seeing the inspiring spires of Bell Rock.

Again, I have only been an emergency alternative when the stars aligned – Detours had an overflow of bookings, and I was able to wriggle free from Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours with Wild Bunch.

However, the guide-sharing concept has advanced to the next level thanks to the constructive collaboration between myself and my former guide Matt Kalina.

Between the highly technical hikes for his Mad Desert Trekking, Matt still regularly jumps in for Wild Bunch duty, and we do the same for him -- with us always referring Camelback Mountain hiking tours to Matt as this recent Blog details.

From the outgrowth of that cooperation, I sent Detours five dates in December that I am available to serve on stand-by.

And that helps them to manage their regulars, who are governed by the same sort of Department of Transportation rules as truck drivers with wheel time logged and regulated. So, their regulars can only drive so many hours before they need to take a mandatory break.

I can help by jumping in on a day when they are sold out or need to give another driver a break. Or better yet, I can take a Sedona tour group to free up hours for another driver to focus on their Grand Canyon Tours.

A couple of bikers pause for a picture in front of a crazy cactus during a Wild Bunch outing.

A couple of bikers pause for a picture in front of a crazy cactus during a Wild Bunch outing.


Phoenix adventure tours: Everybody in the pool!
Collectively, we continue referring business to each other and working together on a lot of large group outings.

For instance, maybe Detours provides the transportation and Wild Bunch offers the guides for a hike. Or when circumstances allowed in the past, Wild Bunch showed up at a resort to pick up and take guests to the trailhead in a Hummer from Stellar for that extra “WOW” factor.

However, the beauty of this plan now is everybody pools their greatest resource – our guides -- to make more money for those important path finders – and make more money for their companies – by helping provide as many tours as possible for our guests.

Off-roading slow today? Perhaps American Detours West or Mad Desert Trekking needs extra help.

Not as many Phoenix hiking tours or Phoenix mountain bike tours? Maybe Stellar Adventures can use a hand or three.

Lack of Camelback Mountain hikes today? Chances are Wild Bunch Desert Guides are busy and looking for more guides.

Why heck, on the same day recently, Matt was leading a Phoenix hike for me while I was driving for Stellar.

And like the two of us, there are a group of guides who can work for one or more of the other companies.

I always have felt that if you are a trained adventure guide, you can basically guide anything.

And I never have had strict rules that my guides can only work for me exclusively. That is neither fair nor how I would want to be treated.

Guides are independent contractors, after all – so they should be able to pick up work wherever and wherever they can.

Believe it or not, though, finding guides is hard because it is seasonal contract work -- so unless you are retired or independently wealthy, you need another job to sustain a living.

And to be a successful guide you also must have a specific personality – and to borrow from Liam Neesom in the “Taken” films, own a specific skill set.

My fellow owners in the Phoenix adventure tours industry know this all too well – we can’t just pull anybody off the street.

The random guy carrying a sign, “WILL WORK FOR FOOD,” does not work here.

So, collectively, me and my peers greatly value our adventure guides.

And that is also why this collective effort works by helping cover all of our bases with excellent, qualified and quality guides.

That is great for our guests – and even better for our 5-star rated businesses.

I also know cross guiding is especially perfect for a fast-twitch person like me.

I personally love doing a wide range of tasks – and enjoying a variety of experiences – while meeting a diverse group of people.

Guiding for different tours offers different perspectives and keeps everything fresh for me.

Going to Sedona one day, off-roading the next, and later guiding a Phoenix mountain bike tour or Phoenix hiking tour is much more fun, rewarding and interesting to me than settling into a boring daily routine.

And while the latter is a part of life, that is hardly the reason we are here in the first place.

Live your life to the fullest. Celebrate the full spectrum of experiences available. And next time you are in Phoenix, look us up to help you with that life-affirming pursuit.
 
 
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Courtesy Michelle Craig Photography

 

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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