Phoenix hiking tours: Lights! Camera! Action!

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • March 03, 2024
So, let me set the scene.

Picture a camera crew from Visit Arizona on the Sonoran Desert trails used for guided Phoenix hiking tours & Phoenix mountain bike tours.

There are special lights for this production even under the usual sunny skies in the Valley of the Sun.

Also, there are crew members holding light reflectors and Cinefoil to help make everything picture-perfect for the cameras.

Grouped together on the trail are the “extras,” posing as guests on one of the outdoor Phoenix adventures offered by a small, local mom-and-pop specialty shop, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

And right at the center of the camera shot is the owner of the company -- the heroine of an inspiring rags-to-riches tale full of passion, determination and friendship.

Yeah, I was admittedly a little blown away to be the star of this show.

Laurel Darren, owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, is all smiles with her hair prepared by a local stylist for her interview and video shoot with Visit Arizona.
(TOP) Laurel Darren, owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, is all smiles with her hair prepared by a local stylist for her interview and video shoot with Visit
Arizona. (COVER) A photographer for Visit Arizona discusses a shot with Laurel.

Cinematic treatment for Phoenix hiking tours
Over the years, Wild Bunch has taken a variety of journalists on complimentary (aka free) outdoor guided Phoenix adventures such as a trip up and down our iconic tourist trap landmark, Camelback Mountain.

Most times, the articles end up running in Ireland or some other far-off destination where the impact is likely minimal on bringing more guests to our homespun hospitality and five star-rated boutique service.

Or maybe Wild Bunch only rated a couple of sentences buried into a larger travel log.

I still saw the value and good will in doing those pieces because I am a big believer in karma – and from my own upbringing as a communications major in college, I know there is something to the argument there is no bad press in the sense of raising an overall awareness of you and your brand.

But some media requests are more than worth the time and trouble.

In one of my first Blogs, I recounted a chance meeting with the social media marketing team from TOTL, which documents their travel experiences around the world with a mixture of photos, video clips and social media posts.

I also point proudly at my experiences with Jaime Cerreta, a local TV reporter who highlights local small businesses, and as discussed in this October Blog, featured the Wild Bunch on two separate occasions on both the local news and her super-popular Podcast. 

So, I was an easy sell when a journalist writing for Visit Arizona called to inform me my Wild Bunch Desert Guides had been selected to represent outdoor Phoenix adventures in a seven-part series highlighting different industries and features that make life special in this state.

The journalist admitted she had been stalking me for over a year through my Blogs and Instagram posts, and she was thoroughly impressed with my authenticity and the overall vibe of my company as reflected by our five star-rated reviews and strong media presence.

She also loved that Wild Bunch is a smaller, specialty service from a self-made entrepreneur – and not some cookie-cutter national big-box retailer devoid of any local flavor or customer-focused care.

So, I quickly agreed to an interview on some of the same Sonoran Desert trails Wild Bunch uses for guided Phoenix hiking tours & Phoenix mountain bike tours.

I also dressed up some of my guiding staff as tourists, so the cameras could catch some “B roll” as the media industry calls it, to show a typical guided hike in Phoenix.

And I got all dolled up myself, ditching my usual hat and hiking gear to get my hair done.

Still, nothing could really prepare me for the big day when I saw the photographic lighting, the Gimbal, and the assorted crew members.

I felt like I was a celebrity for a day – sitting squarely at center stage in a serious production!

But with my hair done, I felt very powerful and invincible – and if I felt any nervousness, it was diminished even more by having a Park Ranger from the City of Phoenix there to escort us and help me with my lines -- immediately correcting any missteps I might make for a quick retake.

With the likelihood of many starts and stops because of the retakes needed to get everything right, we also decided against using real guests on a real tour. Instead, we picked our spots on the trails and used my guiding staff as extras for the “action” shots to go with the interview.

This was much more staged than my experience with TOTL – or even with Jaime for the local TV news segment.

I didn't have a makeup artist or anything, but this was a real production with a full camera crew.

The whole experience was truly awesome and a super honor to be able to talk about the outdoor Phoenix adventures industry.

I discussed the incredible variety offered in the hundreds of miles of desert trails available locally, as well as sharing my favorite hikes, and where to find the best iconic sunset views for the “money shot” in many vacation albums.

I also got to trumpet the many other incredible things to do in Phoenix – as well as share my own story and experiences as a small business owner.

The narrative also kept circling back to how there are so many hiking & mountain biking trails within 15 minutes of downtown Phoenix.

It is amazing to think visitors can fly into Phoenix – and after landing at Sky Harbor Airport and retrieving both their bags and rental car – they are only a 15-minute drive away from enjoying outdoor Phoenix adventures.

That is one of main reasons people love residing in the Valley of the Sun.

I am unsure of when the package will run this spring – I was the first interview subject -- but I can hardly wait to see the finished product.

With a lighting screen hanging over head, a videographer for Visit Arizona does his work during a photo shoot with the Wild Bunch.

With a lighting screen hanging over head, a videographer for Visit Arizona does his work during a photo shoot with the Wild Bunch.

Putting Phoenix hiking tours at center stage
From the experience, I gained a greater appreciation – which I didn’t think was possible – for my friend Mirna Valerio.

She is better known as “The Mirnavator” from social media campaigns for Lululemon and other brands that sponsor her athletic and travel experiences as a plus-size “real woman.”

As discussed in this special Mother’s Day Blog, I have been honored to enjoy a fantastic friendship with her.

Mirna was just back in Arizona, and whenever she is in the area, she always finds time to see me. She also goes out of her way to make time to visit my mom, who is here and suffering from the early stages of dementia.

But when Mirna flies in and we go have dinner, I also know she is not here for pleasure. Mirna is always on the run to another photo shoot for one of her sponsors.

So, one of the first things I said to my boyfriend Brett when we were out on the hiking trail shooting the story?

“Now I know how Mirna feels,” I said.

Like this is her life, you know?

All the takes to backup and re-do stuff.

All of the times a director or producer asked her to stand in a different spot because the lighting is better over there.

Or the countless camera operators changing the angle of her head up or down or to one side or the other – or moved her body this way or that – because they are striving for the perfect money shot.

“Can you walk down the middle of the trail?” I was asked during shooting of the B-roll portion of the package.

“You walked to her left, Bob. Can you flip over to her right side instead?” was another note during a different scene.

“Don’t look into the camera,” I was directed another time. “Look off into the distance.”

It is easy to feel like a real-life “Barbie” doll smiling for the camera while you are being contorted in all sorts of ways.

But I understand why it was so very detailed.

Same as the Wild Bunch when it comes to guided Phoenix hiking tours & Phoenix mountain bike tours, the videographer has to make everything perfect because that is their name going on that work.

There are different camera lenses for different situations, and there are always different camera angles and lighting considerations.

My mom-and-pop specialty shop is no different.

Which trail best fits a selected adventure and group? Which guide is best suited to lead a given guest’s Phoenix adventure tour? I spend time answering questions like this by checking on all the details for each booking.

Everything needs to be perfect because Wild Bunch offers completely customizable outdoor Phoenix adventures that are totally private to only you and your family or travel party. Never will your group include any add-ons from other parts of the country.

And just like the camera crew, Wild Bunch is hyper-focused on making the experience memorable for the stars of our show.

I also have dabbled in belonging to different organizations aimed at boosting local businesses in the past.

Sometimes, I also decided to walk away and put my time and hard-earned money elsewhere because I felt the biggest operators received all of the attention compared to myself, my friends and my counterparts in the small business world.

Fairness was my point of contention, and I was never bashful about calling out the inequity.

So. It was very cool to be approached by Visit Arizona because of all of my years of feeling like bigger companies get all the attention. The time finally arrived for the “little guy.”

Also heartening was discovering that finally, all of this blogging and social media outreach and extra work done by me, and my staff added up to something tangible. My posts may not get a lot of likes online, but they actually do mean something.

The whole experience was a total compliment to all the hard work put in by everybody involved in the Wild Bunch Desert Guides. This opportunity shows what happens when you do things the right way – and I hope more people discover the difference.


-- Handicap Accessible ADA hiking trails a full-access pass to Phoenix
-- 'Elite Eight' of Phoenix adventure tours
-- A TOTL  pleasure for Phoenix mountain bike tours guide
-- 'Jaime's Local Loves' shines light on Phoenix adventure tours 
-- A special Mother's Day gift for Phoenix hiking tours 
-- Reasons to remember our Phoenix hiking 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.


Recent Blog Posts

Hunt for ‘Easter Eggs’ on Phoenix hiking tours

Easter is the final Sunday in March this year. But it hardly needs to be the holiday for Wild Bunch Desert Guides guests to go on an “Easter Egg Hunt” with guided Phoenix hiking tours. From colorful plant life, exotic animals and a rich tapestry cascading across the sky during sunrise or sunset, Arizona’s Sonoran Desert boasts all sorts of once-in-a-lifetime sights waiting to be discovered.

Winning selection: ‘Elite Eight’ of Phoenix adventure tours

“Selection Sunday” is March 17. Three weekends after that, “March Madness” for college men’s basketball concludes with the “Final Four” in Phoenix. If making a fastbreak to the Valley of the Sun for “The Big Dance” – or even visiting for spring training baseball or Spring Break from school -- here is an “Elite Eight” list of must-do Phoenix adventure tours.

Phoenix hiking tours: Lights! Camera! Action!

I have heard comparisons before to Drew Barrymore, with everyone from friends to guests noting I have a similar “crazy chick vibe” to the iconic actress and current talk show host. But recently, I got to step into Drew’s shoes for a glimpse into her world under the lights, with a camera crew turning the desert trails for guided Phoenix hiking tours & Phoenix mountain bike tours into a sort of movie set with me starring in a production all about my life.