Phoenix adventure tours guide all revved up

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • February 19, 2024
The Rolls Royce driven by Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren during the Barrett Jackson Car Auction is pictured.
(ABOVE) Pictured is the 
Rolls Royce driven by Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren during her duties as a valet at the Barrett Jackson Car Auction. (COVER)
A Maserati was among the many vehicles receiving valet parking service from Laurel.

As a provider of guided Phoenix hiking tours & Phoenix mountain bike tours, I am blessed to live a life full of adventures in the Valley of the Sun.

However, not every thrill ride comes from my mom-and-pop specialty shop, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

My latest escapade found me again parking cars for Epic Valet, during the local service provider’s busiest time of the year, working both the seminal Barrett Jackson Car Auction and the PGA Tour’s largest annual party, the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

I got hooked in last year at this time when I noticed an Instagram post seeking temporary valet employees at the golf tournament -- and I had such a blast, I immediately signed back up again this year upon receiving an email three months ago checking on my availability.

Epic makes it easy for me to also work my own usual business duties as I am among the first valets in (for example the 4 a.m. starting shift) and first employees out (as early as 10 a.m. some slower days).

Working at both events also was a cool experience because of my interactions with both the customers and my counterparts – the latter mostly college kids looking to bank some money for expenses or spring break (or both).

Serving alongside a bunch of 20-somethings was again a treat because, same as when I am also guiding Phoenix adventure tours, being around youthful exuberance and energy definitely keeps you young.

Parking a Bentley was among Laurel's highlights at the Barrett Jackson Car Auction in Scottsdale.

Parking a Bentley was among Laurel's highlights at the Barrett Jackson Car Auction in Scottsdale.

Playing hookie from Phoenix adventure tours
I grew up wired to be a fast-twitch, multi-sport athlete, so I have always embraced the idea of staying busy by juggling lots of tasks at once.

That is why I was a delivery driver during the pandemic.

As detailed in this previous Blog, I mainly needed to save my business financially during the COVID shutdowns -- but I also needed a way to keep myself from going stir crazy locked inside of my house.

During those many days of driving a delivery truck, I helped pass the time on the road by listening to, among others, the Dave Ramsey Radio Show.

For the uninitiated, Ramsey is a financial expert who always extols the virtues of having “side hustles.” As Ramsey says, it doesn't matter how old you are or how much money you have, you can always use a side hustle to fall back on and remain active.

Which is where Epic Valet fits in – as I discussed in this Blog last year.

This year, I worked the final full week of January at the car auction – which is replayed now on TV nationally – and then followed with a tour of duty at the golf tourney the first full week of February.

Working during both events was awesome!

Car collectors typically drive amazing vehicles while the golf fans operate most anything with wheels. So, it was a great comparison between quality and quantity.

Plus, it rained buckets at both events, so the tips were especially good with most customers taking pity on the poor valets getting soaked while wearing ponchos to retrieve cars.

At Barrett Jackson, the highlight of my experience was driving both a Rolls Royce and a Bentley for the first time.

When my turn came up in line to take those cars, I sat in the driver’s seat a little longer than usual – but not because I was savoring the opportunity.

Instead, I had to get my bearings for how to operate both cars while facing beautiful dashboards with an incredible amount of buttons and switches. I almost didn’t want to touch anything for fear of breaking something or messing up somebody’s usual settings.

I also felt like the proverbial fish out of water because I was not wearing any Prada.

But even while wearing plain, gray work pants and a valet jacket, I could not help but wonder what it would be like if I could actually afford to drive these cars home.

However, from my short time in the driver’s seat, I concluded neither car is for me. They are much too luxurious for me and my lifestyle of Phoenix hiking tours & Phoenix mountain bike tours.

So, thanks for the test drive, but I will be keeping my Tacoma truck for the foreseeable future.

After parking, I also never was tempted to crawl in the back of either luxury vehicle for a few moments to imagine myself in a role in the movie “Driving Miss Daisy.”

I know I never would get used to being shuttled around with one of those long cigarettes they have in the movies dangling between my hands and lips, rolling down a window between myself and a driver, and saying, “Harold, please take me to Old Town Scottsdale for liquid refreshments at my favorite dive bar.”

That sort of pampering is just not in my DNA.

Nor do I plan to add to my side gigs and become a chauffeur any time soon.

Laurel leads one of the Phoenix hiking tours for her Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

Laurel Darren leads one of the Phoenix hiking tours for her Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

Phoenix adventure tours: A real Ferris wheel
However, one of the funniest moments working for Epic this year relates to another classic movie – “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

In the film, Ferris and his two friends use a valet service to park the prized Ferrari of his best friend’s father, which they have “borrowed” without his permission to visit downtown Chicago for the day.

They use a valet service to park the sports car in a secure garage – but only realize after getting home from their adventure, the valet had taken the collector’s vehicle for a joy ride of his own around Chicagoland, helping more than double the low mileage on the Ferrari.

So, it was a true delight when I pulled up this Porsche from parking and the super sweet owner looked at me and joked, “Did you do a Ferris Bueller with this?”

I laughed and said, “We drove it all the way to Tucson and back within the time frame you were in Barrett Jackson.”

He looked concerned when he asked, “Did you really?”

My reply was straight out of the iconic film: “It will be OK. Just put it up on blocks and put it in reverse to take the miles off.”

Another laugh track was needed for my interaction with the owner of a tricked-out Jeep at the Phoenix Open.

The Rubicon even had a winch, so I knew these were some serious off-roading folks.

To combat the rainy days, Epic had us placing paper floor mats in the cars to help us avoid tracking mud and muck into the vehicles – and the customers certainly appreciated that attention to detail.

However, when I rolled up in the Rubicon, before getting in, the driver asked, “Did you put this paper floor mat in my Jeep?”
“YES SIR!” I answered, thinking a big tip was coming.

Instead, he looked at me, shook his head and responded incredulously. “Uh, it’s a Jeep,” the owner said, sounding offended or perhaps concerned about my mental wellbeing. “SOOOOOO … I'm going to ask you again …”

He barely finished repeating the question before I hurriedly removed the floor mat and said, “No, Sir! Nope, never, ever would I think of doing that.”

So, every other time I would get a Jeep after that, I still put in a paper floor mat -- but before the driver got it, I would say, “Look, I really apologize – but it's protocol for us to put the floor mat in because it’s raining.”

Another LOL moment and huge thrill – literally and figuratively – was getting to drive this huge monster truck at the golf tournament.

The owner was so cool. And because of the size of the wheels, it was a huge step up. I felt like I needed a ladder to get into the cab.

It was like doing a pull up to get into the freaking driver’s seat.

So, this experience was much different – but no less thrilling – than guiding Phoenix hiking tours or Phoenix mountain bike tours for my Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

The Monster Truck driven by Laurel Darren during her valet duties this year.

The Monster Truck driven by Laurel Darren during her valet duties this year.


Life like Ferris thrill for Phoenix adventure tours guide
As mentioned, the best part of my valet experiences the past year was working with a bunch of young go-getters – and that is where my business and play time truly converge.

I am blessed to interact with so many young people and young families at Wild Bunch Desert Guides. The energy is so infectious, it frankly keeps me coming back for more Phoenix hiking tours & Phoenix mountain bike tours.

Doing something else such as valet work also allows me to exercise other muscles and sharpen other skills helpful at my little mom-and-pop specialty shop  – everything from customer service to relationship-building.

Plus, a little break from the guiding grind also recharges my batteries – and makes it fresh -- with absence making the heart grow fonder for leading tours and providing five-star rated service and homespun hospitality.

But most importantly. being around my younger co-workers at Epic helps me relate to our youngest guests for Phoenix adventure tours – although, admittedly, I find myself saying “when I was your age” or “back in my day” much too often now.

I tend to apologize for outdated references by making fun of myself and observing, “I guess I'm just a grandma” or “Sorry, I'm older than the Internet.”

However, the kids are super respectful, and they will say, “No you're not! You're cool!”

But am I really? If so, I am at least knocking off some rust by being around them -- and I am delighted when something from my youth registers with them.

For instance, one day at the Phoenix Open, I was on a golf cart with a young adult sporting a Jersey accent. After asking about his backstory, I found out he is now a fraternity brother at Arizona State University.

So, I asked if he’d ever seen “Animal House” – another of my favorite movies – and he reported that his father had exposed him to the college fraternity classic.

“That is the best movie ever!” he said to make me smile.

Later, we were talking together with a group about something, and I asked if anybody was familiar with the movie phrase, “Red Rum! Red Rum!”

And one of the kids next to me quickly answered: “Hello? That's ‘The Shining.’ I am older than you think.

So, I asked: “Well, how old are you?” And he answered: “22.”

“Yeah,” I said with a laugh, “you’re MUCH older than I thought.”

But while not every one of my ancient references is lost on these kids, none of them have learned yet to drive a stick shift.

Thankfully, there were three of us old-timers at Barrett Jackson to park or return the Mustangs and other muscle cars requiring that skill.

I learned how to drive a stick shift on my stepdad's Honda Prelude. My softball pitching coach also had all of us girls driving his old farm truck on the rural road running around the old ballfield when we were waiting for another student to finish and our lesson to start.

So now, it’s up to me to show the next generation how to drive a stick – even though they have no clue what that is, much less why it is there.

But then again, they are patient with me and extremely helpful whenever I get a Tesla thrown my way.

“Put the credit car key on the door and lift the latch,” they explained to at least get me in the driver’s seat.

Figuring out the spacecraft-level controls inside? That took a little more time to figure out and get familiar with thanks to their assistance.
Which is another reason I have always subscribed to the motto of the immortal Ferris Bueller.

“Life moves pretty fast,” the movie character opined nearly 40 years ago. “If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

-- Survival drive delivers lessons in gratitude 
-- Phoenix hiking tours owner becomes ‘Valet Girl’ 
-- Phoenix adventure tours ‘Come Together’ 
-- Reasons to remember our Phoenix adventure tours 


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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