Phoenix hiking tours vow: ‘Every step I take’
Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • July 31, 2022
“Every breath you take …
And every move you make …
Every bond you break …
Every step you take …
I'll be watching you
– Gordon Sumner, aka Sting
from 1984’s Grammy Award-winning Song of the Year from “The Police”
(TOP) The foursome reaching the summit of Handies Peak to spread some of the ashes of their dearly departed Daisy Mae are (R-L) Glenn Heumann, owner Laurel Darren, and Lydia McNesse with Daisy Mae's Plott Hound understudy Waylon. (BLOG COVER PAGE) Lydia McNeese, Laurel Darren and her Plott Hound Waylon are on top of the world after scattering some ashes of their dearly departed dog Waylon on the summit of Handies Peak in the Lake City region of Colorado's San Juan Mountains.
So, among my many highlights this July, perhaps the coolest moment was the day I hiked to the top of Handies Peak with some friends to pay tribute to my dearly departed Plott Hound, Daisy Mae.
I discussed the gut-wrenching decision to put Daisy Mae out of her misery earlier this year in this previous Blog, after a hind leg was amputated only to discover a fast-moving cancer had spread throughout her body.
Handies Peak was the first “14er” for both of us last summer when we hooked up with the Lake City Hiking Club during our annual extended Colorado summer vacation from Arizona’s withering desert heat.
With the Phoenix adventure tours industry idling back during the summer “offseason,” owners/operators and guides like me are able to take a break from visitors and enjoy some vacation time themselves – though my Wild Bunch Desert Guides still offer Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours to guests with early-morning start times to escape the worst of those pottery kiln-like temperatures.
That epic first journey up Handies Peak with Daisy Mae also was a significant first step to the Wild Bunch expanding our horizons this year by adding Colorado summer hiking tours to our list of options.
In fact, Handies Peak now tops that list of Colorado hiking adventures offered by my little mom-and-pop specialty shop. It simply is a must-see if you are visiting the remote wilderness wonderland I call home in the summer.
So, I felt like I needed to do something special to remember Daisy Mae in such a memorable place.
(TOP) With Glenn Heumann in the background, Waylon the Plott Hound searches for little creatures scurrying amid the amazing scenery in the American
Basin. Included are the colorful and abundant bursts of wildflowers. (BOTTOM) Lydia McNeese, Laurel Darren and Plott Hound Waylon are ready to explore
on the trail to Handies Peak.
First step for Phoenix hiking tours
Tucked away in the remote Lake City region of the San Juan Mountains, Handies Peak tops out at just over 14,000 feet total – one of only 58 so-called 14ers in Colorado.
The hike to the summit of Handies Peak is 7.5 miles with 2,500 feet of elevation gain.
To get there, you must pass through the expansive beauty of the American Basin.
When you witness the amazing scenery there – and especially have all of your senses thrilled by the colorful array of wildflowers – you understand why legend claims this is where angels learn to fly.
So, this little piece of heaven right here on earth was an appropriate place to spread some of the ashes of my Guardian Angel.
Even though we can no longer physically see or interact with Daisy Mae, I can still feel her presence loyally by my side.
Whenever I am having a difficult day, I simply close my eyes and think of my girl and a smile comes to my face.
Whenever I have a problem to solve, I say to myself, “Alright, Daisy Mae, let's figure this out.”
I suspect I will miss her every day until I someday pass myself -- but thankfully, not a day goes by that she does not sweetly enter my thoughts and warm up my heart.
Her collar is on my hiking backpack to always remind me Daisy Mae is right there looking over my shoulder with every step I take.
Of course, there are so many other hikes we loved – and we did so many together.
My boyfriend Brett and I are going to do a couple more Colorado summer hiking tours together to share Daisy Mae and the enduring love we have for her with the world.
I am going to take some of her ashes back to Arizona as well for the same reason and spread them at some of the favorite hiking spots we shared together in testing out the Phoenix hiking tours offered by the Wild Bunch.
So, this is my lasting tribute to her for always being at my side through thick and thin -- and for always helping see me through every personal crisis to the beautiful side of life.
(TOP) The bag of ashes containing the remains of Daisy Mae, the dearly departed Plott Hound and constant hiking companion of Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren. (BOTTOM) Laurel Darren spreads some of the ashes of her beloved Daisy Mae on the summit of Handies Peak in the Lake City region of Colorado's San Juan Mountains.
Next step for hiking tours Phoenix
On July 18, I hiked to the top of Handies Peak with Waylon, our 3-year-old Plott Hound and Daisy Mae’s former understudy; Lydia McNeese, one of my partners in crime here in Lake City; and Glenn Heumann, the magnanimous leader of the Lake City Hiking Club.
Also hiking that day was well-known Lake City photographer Michael Underwood plus the family of Amanda Hartman, herself the other part of my regular adventure trio with Lydia.
I had invited all of them to hike with us, but because of time constraints, only the foursome of myself, Waylon, Lydia, and Glenn made the summit.
My mentor in everything hound dog -- Glynn Holmes, whom I adopted Waylon from -- sent me a beautiful poem about hound dogs and pets and when you leave them where they go.
So, I read that poem up on Handies Peak before spreading Daisy Mae’s ashes.
I was really grateful that Glenn and Lydia were up there with me – especially because the last 500 feet of that hike are not easy. Waylon had to go into mushing mode and turn into a Huskie to pull me up there! (Ha)
When Daisy Mae passed, a lot of people in Lake City reached out to me on Facebook or via text and offered their condolences.
So, I thought it was super appropriate to spread some of her ashes up on Handies Peak -- and have Glenn and Lydia there, because they knew Daisy Mae so well and spent so much time with her.
Daisy hiked multiple times last summer with Glenn and the Lake City Hiking Club -- and she was so welcomed and loved by everybody in that group.
Lydia and Amanda got to know her well, too, with our multiple adventures together.
Plus, Lydia is the “dog whisperer” of Hinsdale County – so her support with Waylon was crucial.
Lydia was holding Waylon’s leash while I was reading the poem and spreading Daisy Mae’s ashes.
Waylon was barking the entire time.
It was almost like he knew what was going on. He barked so much and so loudly when we were coming down, we ran into so many people who stopped to say, “We heard you up there, hound dog!”
That had me fondly recalling the same greeting the previous summer when we made our way down the mountain with Daisy Mae.
But then every step of the most recent trip was a trip down memory lane with my faithful old girl at my side.
Laurel Darren, Lydia McNeese and Waylon the Plott Hound pose amid the breathtaking beauty of Handies Peak.
Hiking tours Phoenix: Step by step
Sloan Lake is about a mile into the hike to Handies Peak – and it is a beautiful place to take a break because it is such a wonder to behold.
Alpine lakes like this were formed by glaciers gouging the rocks and leaving behind perfectly clean water typically too cold for anything but drinking.
The water is so crystal clear, I swear I am looking into a mirror or through a pane of glass when appreciating Sloan Lake.
I remember last year -- the lake was iced over, and Daisy was really thirsty. I typically do not let my dogs drink out of many water sources, but someone was like, “Oh, it's clean and clear.”
So, I let her leash go, and she delighted all of us by walking right up to the lake’s edge – like she had done this a million times -- and sticking her paws in the ice to make it break so she could enjoy drinking the ice-cold water.
It was really cool to watch her do that.
This year? I found myself standing there admiring Sloan Lake again – and thinking back to that memory of Daisy Mae – while Waylon simply barked at everything including his shadow.
That is the problem, though, sometimes with men, right?
It was an interesting comparison between the two trips up to Handies Peak because Waylon is 3 years old, and he is certifiably crazy.
Meanwhile, Daisy Mae was 7 years old when she hiked Handies – so she was definitely a lot more seasoned.
For instance, Daisy was not trying to chase everything down – and of course, there's marmots and other little creatures on the trail that interest a hunting dog like Waylon.
Daisy is the same breed, but she was a people-person dog -- she just LOVED humans.
She was such a social butterfly. She would walk up to you and turn her behind around because she wanted you to pet her right above her tail.
That was her thing whereas Waylon barks at everything – people included.
She definitely made a lot of people happy -- and so many people loved her floppy ears. But with Waylon, you cannot even get close to him. He just barks at you.
I feel like he is over-protective of me because Daisy is gone now. I can sense he feels like he has to fill that void of like. “OK. I have to protect my momma now.”
My dogs have two different personalities, so it is a different experience now when I hike with Waylon.
I know she is looking down and shaking her head while muttering, “He is so naughty … but you have to take him. momma, so he can learn to see the beauty in this world and the experience the beauty of the people who populate it.”
I know she is also thinking, “Quit pulling the leash, you little shit, and dragging momma down the hill so fast … And quit chasing everything with a tail.”
I also know in my heart that wherever she is now, Daisy Mae is running through the beautiful and seemingly endless fields of a place like American Basin and Handies Peak.
And with every step I take, I know she wants me to show a lot more people these same sorts of amazing slices of heaven found on the Colorado summer hiking tours and Phoenix hiking tours offered by my Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
About the Author
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