Phoenix adventure tours: Eight great memories

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • May 23, 2021

“My husband and I were celebrating (our) anniversary in Scottsdale and were looking for some outdoor adventure, not too far from our Doubletree resort in Paradise Valley. The concierge recommended mountain biking with Wild Bunch, and I was sold after having spoken with Laurel, (the) owner/manager. Her enthusiasm and helpfulness made all of the difference! We booked the (90-minute) ride and had an outstanding guide, Don. He had such a fun personality and was certainly an expert when it came to the terrain and rules of the 'road.' He challenged us while allowing us to enjoy the scene as much as possible. He helped in taking pics and videos of us. The bike, gear, snacks, and just everything was tops. Wild Bunch goes out of their way to make it an incredible, memorable experience!Mary Beth, Virginia on Tripadvisor, March 2020

A Wild Bunch guide shares a huge hug with a guest after conquering a challenge on a Scottsdale mountain bike ride in the middle of Arizona's Sonoran Desert.
A Wild Bunch guide shares a huge hug with a guest after conquering a challenge on a Scottsdale mountain bike ride in the
middle of Arizona's Sonoran Desert.

With the long Memorial Day Weekend on our collective minds next weekend, this Phoenix adventure tour company owner started thinking.

What have been the most memorable guided Phoenix hikes and guided Scottsdale mountain bike tours over the first five years and counting for my Wild Bunch Desert Guides?

I have a lot of memories from the trails that stand out because they were super fun. There are moments of laughter and there are WTF moments.

But I also have been in moments that are memorable because the situation was serious like coming across a rattlesnake on the trail. Seeing a real snake for the first time freaks out some people.

However, the coolest thing about this industry is every guest has a story. So, you meet some amazing people and learn some truly fascinating tales.

Literally, there is something to remember about every single guest or adventure.

There also are guests on mountain bikes doing something they never thought they could – like a novice rider clearing a small rock drop.

Or there are couples hiking together to mark a milestone anniversary in amazing surroundings.

It is amazing to be on the trail with hikers who have never before been to Arizona. You hear the many times they say, “This is so beautiful.” Most first-time visitors can never get enough of the cactus or the rocks or the scenery.

But it also is great to see guests come back year after year and they learn to appreciate the surroundings even more.

Or the repeat visitors get better and better as mountain bike riders. For instance, the Wild Bunch have taken 12-year-olds out mountain biking for the first time and they can hardly ride. But the next year? They are amazing.

And there have been a lot of kids picking up the mountain biking passion during a family vacation who have become high school state champs and podium finishers. Those are incredible moments to reflect on their incredible growth and I cherish the pictures their parents send me.

In every circumstance, it fills your heart to feel the love and hear their appreciation.

But if you press me for the top Phoenix adventure tours memories, these eight all earn medals for different reasons.

A man hugs a mighty and majestic Saguaro Cactus in the middle of the picturesque Sonoran Desert.

A man hugs a mighty and majestic Saguaro Cactus in the middle of the picturesque Sonoran Desert.
Phoenix adventure tours: Memory No. 1
Among my all-time greatest memories are when guests come from a place of prominence in their industry or community and you find them to be just like the rest of us normal, everyday people out on the trails.

The Wild Bunch Desert Guides have had the pleasure of pathfinding for CEOs of major companies and Mayors of their local town, or they hold some other prestigious title within their world. It is so awesome when those VIPs can get away and let their guard down and just have some stress-relieving fun on a guided Phoenix mountain biking tour or guided Scottsdale hiking trip.

Sometimes I will get a familiar name on a booking or see an email address that makes me Google that person and I will go, “Holy shit!”

Sometimes I let the guides know, but sometimes I do not, so the big-name guest has their anonymity.

I also want all of us at Wild Bunch to treat exactly everyone the same, and sometimes when you know somebody has some status, you treat them differently and they know you are trying too hard to be something you are not. So, it is often better when you fail to know who that person is.

Usually, I am the only one who knows, and to be in moments where big names are hugging a cactus – and I am able to talk them into doing that – is fantastic because that is something they normally would never do.

One of these sorts of guided Phoenix adventure tours turned into a long-lasting friendship I detailed in this Blog earlier this year.

Two women take pictures of the breath-taking landscapes in Arizona's Sonoran Desert.
Two women take photos of the breath-taking landscapes in Arizona's Sonoran Desert. Sometimes the surroundings are far from the only stars sighted on a Wild Bunch tour.
Phoenix adventure tours: Memory No. 2
Just as I did in that Blog, I am withholding the familiar names to protect their identities.

So, I will avoid giving you a specific person’s name – and besides, there are too many of these fun, high-profile guests from which to choose from for an all-time favorite.

But there have been several quote-unquote “celebrities” others would recognize who have enjoyed Phoenix adventure tours with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides – such as the morning TV commentator who brought his family for a guided Scottsdale hike or the NBA legend who needed a special bike for his guided Scottsdale mountain biking tour.

It is an honor and privilege to meet these famous people, but it is even better to see them get a rare chance to be NORMAL. Out in the Sonoran Desert, they are not leading the meeting. On those miles of mostly remote trails, they are not switched on and working a crowd. They can just be themselves and enjoy hiking in Phoenix or mountain biking in Scottsdale.

For instance, Rebel took a Major League Baseball team owner out on a Scottsdale guided mountain bike tour once and he turned out to be one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people you could care to meet.

This owner called me directly and did not have an assistant handle the details. Never once was there even a hint of him playing the big-shot card. He just said one of his friends had recommended Wild Bunch.

He booked solo, and when I heard his email address, I said, “Uh-oh. I’m a Cubs fan.

And, he joked back, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t use your company then!”

We shared a genuinely fun talk from there.

He also proved a real winner after his ride with my guide Rebel, where he suffered a fall, so he had a scrape on his knee and elbow. I met them at the trailhead, and he could not stop smiling despite the spill.

“That was EXACTLY what I was looking for – thank you so much,” he said while looking me right in the eyes.

This owner even called me back well after the tour to reiterate what he had learned and what he loved about our Phoenix adventure tours.

This is a gentleman who has worked so hard to be at the top of his industry and you can see how he got there – by being humble, hard-working, as well as so kind and thoughtful and caring.

Those are the people that I tune into the most because they are such great role models for life as well as business success.

A group of mountain bike riders pause to enjoy the beautiful surroundings during a Wild Bunch tour.

A group of mountain bike riders pause to enjoy the beautiful surroundings during a Wild Bunch tour.

Phoenix adventure tours: Memory No. 3
Most of our guests do not own prestigious titles, but they are no less fun.

I love learning about the lives and backgrounds of the “Average Joes,” too.

The Wild Bunch Desert Guides are fortunate to have built all kinds of relationships with seemingly ordinary people who do extraordinary things -- Doctors and Nurses, Firefighters and Cops. We seem to get a lot of first responders – those courageous heroes who run headfirst into the flames instead of sprinting away from trouble.

So, one of the coolest things Wild Bunch has done since the worst of CoVid-19 was taking out Emergency Room doctors and nurses from New York City – most of them wanting to do Scottsdale guided hikes.

During one of those Phoenix adventure tours, I caught myself thinking, “These are the people who were on the front lines in those special CoVid units working 24/7 at the epicenter of the pandemic only last year.”

So, yeah, it was a real honor to get them out of those life-or-death situations for like the first time in a year and get them outside into the Sonoran Desert to finally enjoy the wide-open spaces.

It has been so cool to meet those heroes of CoVid-19 – the people that rushed to aid others when everybody else shut the door and stayed inside – and provide something fun for them.

A married couple employed by the cutting-age company Space-X celebrates the husband's birthday with the present of candy on the Scottsdale hiking trails.

A commemorative pull tab from the Space-X rockets.(Top) 
A married couple employed by the cutting-age company SpaceX celebrates the husband's birthday with the present of candy on the Scottsdale hiking trails. (Bottom) A commemorative pull tab from the SpaceX rockets presented as a
gift to the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

Phoenix adventure tours: Memory No. 4
Recently, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides took a woman and her husband on one of our guided Phoenix adventure tours.

While talking, I learned they both work at SpaceX for Elon Musk.

What is more, she is the absolute last set of eyes to look over their rockets before they launch.

Gulp! Talk about a pressure job! 


She is really amazing.

So, during the most recent SpaceX rocket launch, I was watching that and thinking to myself, “I know HER!”

But there are all kinds of stories like that for the Wild Bunch.

You get to know a lot of “Average Joes” from all sorts of different and fascinating walks of life.
It is fun to hear their behind-the-scenes stories and pull the curtain back and see how the Wizard does his or her work in their chosen careers.

A Wild Bunch guide teaches a young, first-time mountain bike rider the basic fundamentals before a guided tour on the rocky trails of Scottsdale, Ariz.

A young girl flashes a big smile after learning to ride a mountain bike with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides. A guide smiles along with her on the trails in Scottsdale, Ariz.

(Top) A Wild Bunch guide teaches a young, first-time mountain bike rider the basic fundamentals before a guided tour on
the rocky trails of Scottsdale, Ariz.
 (Bottom) The end result is a big smile, gained confidence and new skills.

Phoenix adventure tours: Memory No. 5
The Wild Bunch Desert Guides regularly have guests on Phoenix mountain bike tours and Scottsdale hiking trips who book via their resort’s Concierge.

That means I do not get to customize those tours because the Concierge is doing their job and dealing completely with the guest.

So, the guest never hears from me about the tour like every other Wild Bunch guest. Instead, all the communication is from the Concierge – which unfortunately can lead to a misunderstanding or three.

The biggest example of this came during an awkward tour once for my guide Don, who picked the guest up at a very swanky high-end resort.

When Don and the guest got to the trail, he explained they were at the McDowell Sonoran Desert Preserve and shared the planned activities for a routine guided Scottsdale mountain bike tour.

One problem: The guest was like a deer in headlights. She did not know what she was getting herself into when she booked her Phoenix adventure tours. She had literally never ridden a bicycle her entire life.

So, Don had to educate her as if she were a 5-year-old just starting to ride a bike – and without the help of training wheels.

The guest was too frightened to hit the rocky and bouncy trails.

So, all they did for an hour and a half was literally ride in the parking lot back-and-forth.

She would not attempt to turn. All she would do is ride straight ahead for as long as she could, put her foot down to stop, and then go step-step-step-step to turn the bike around and come straight back in the other direction.

Kudos to Don for having both the patience and knowledge to work with an absolute beginner.

But as a guide, you have to be able to think fast and be flexible enough to adjust and adapt to any situation. You have to be ready for anything because anything literally can happen.

Wild Bunch tries to avoid those sorts of sticky situations, though.

The website is crystal clear what the Phoenix adventure tours entail.

I also am the most communicative person that ever existed. I am always checking with guests to make sure we tailor the experience to their wants, needs, desires and fitness and skill levels.

The Camelback Mountain trails are steep, challenging and treacherous as this Wild Bunch hiker discovered.

The Camelback Mountain trails are steep, challenging and treacherous as this Wild Bunch hiker discovered.
Phoenix adventure tours: Memory No. 6
As strange as that experience was, there is a topper in the lore of the Wild Bunch Desert Guides – and it was far more serious and frightening.

I recall I was on a guided Camelback Mountain hike with two Emergency Room Doctors when we came across a little girl who was left behind on the treacherously steep trails by her mom at one of the mile posts.

Stunned, I called 9-1-1 and almost immediately there were two helicopters in my face ready to rescue this little girl.

I was talking on the phone to the police officer in one of the choppers. After the police got the little girl on board and back to safety, we were thanked and asked to move on with our adventure, albeit a little shaken.

I never heard what happened to the missing mother, but judging by the quick response, I am guessing the reunion did not go smoothly for her.

A man accepts the offering of Prickly Pear licorice for a snack break during a Wild Bunch hike.

A man accepts the offering of Prickly Pear licorice for a snack break during a Wild Bunch hike. Same as any treat, there
are Phoenix adventure tours not palatable to all guests.

Phoenix adventure tours: Memory No. 7
Another sticky situation that Wild Bunch Desert Guides attempts to prevent is when a group has a wide variety of skills and fitness levels.

We painstakingly consult with the guests during the booking process to try and plan Phoenix adventure tours to fit the entire group, so everyone can enjoy the hiking in Phoenix or mountain biking in Scottsdale.

However, the Wild Bunch is limited by the honesty and opinions of our guests, so this is never a perfect science.

My guides also are experienced and heady enough to see these signs, and fast thinkers able to adjust on the fly as necessary – either decrease or increase the activity level needed by a group.

My guide Rebel had perhaps the most-memorable mismatched pairing, where one of the guests was not in shape for the environment she was put into by her friend, who did not realize how difficult the Scottsdale mountain bike tour would be for her bestie.

Rebel took them out 50 meters into the Sonoran Desert, but the one guest could not handle the weather … or the bike … or the landscape.

So, Rebel had to figure something out. So, she turned them around and took them on a guided Scottsdale hike.

What made the mismatch especially memorable was the friend with mountain biking skills later called to ask if we were willing to take her back out solo on a guided Scottsdale mountain biking tour because she wanted to have that fun she missed.

An amputee with a prostethic leg navigates the steep and rocky terrain of the Phoenix landmark, Camelback Mountain.

An amputee with a prostethic leg navigates the steep and rocky terrain of the Phoenix
landmark, Camelback Mountain. 

Phoenix adventure tours: Memory No. 8
Perhaps the most satisfying experience – save for the transformational week I spent earlier this month with the internet sensation The Mirnavator and her family – was getting my friend Todd to the summit during an incredibly memorable guided Camelback Mountain hiking tour.

I love getting ANYBODY to the top of our iconic landmark here in Phoenix, but I especially love helping the “Average Joes,” who have done the research and worked really hard for that goal, improving their fitness level, and showing up at 5:30 a.m. accepting the boundaries that are set.

To see those guests walk the final 50 meters to reach the summit, as I play the “Rocky” theme song, and see their smiles at the top, those are the memories you think about all the time. They keep me smiling and moving forward on those days when business is rough.

So, now factor in that my friend Todd is an amputee.

He also tried to hike to the top of Camelback Mountain the previous year, but because Todd knows his limits and is honest with himself, he cut the attempt short when the challenge became too much.

But instead of surrendering completely, Todd promised me on that disappointed descent he was coming back the following year to “Conquer the Camel.”

However, those were hardly empty words. Todd put in the time and effort and dedication to prepare and get in better shape.

So, when Todd reached the summit that next year? WOW. Chills. That was so rad!

Both of his guided Camelback Mountain hiking trips are seared into my memory. They are a testament to the never-say-die human spirit.
I love when people take a challenge head on, and I love it even more when Wild Bunch Desert Guides can be a part of that effort.

Laurel Darren, owner and operator of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, is at the center of a group of smiling kids laughing during a snack break because she is shoving the remainder of her snack in her mouth.Laurel Darren, owner and operator of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, is at the center of a group of children during a snack break on the trail.

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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