Summer Phoenix hiking tours: Why so early?

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • May 25, 2022

“Did two days of solo riding -- one with Jay and one with Laurel. First day with Jay was great -- he started us easy and did a good job making sure I could handle the trails and heat for our sunset ride. … All the gear was top notch, and the ride was fantastic. (He) shared a bit about the desert landscape and vegetation. Perfect for a newer rider as well -- easier pace and not too difficult, well-maintained trails and very flowing. Laurel took me out early the next day … and we hit it a little harder. Great 20-mile morning ride -- they had obviously spoken, and she understood I could handle a little more technical terrain. Two nice rides with a great variety of terrain. Awesome adventure! Thanks guys!!!” – Joe, Stuart, Fla., on TripAdvisor, June 2018

Ellen, Rebel and Laurel at the Phoenix Summit Challenge.(TOP) Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren (right) poses with her trusted guides Ellen and Rebel at the Phoenix Summit Challenge. (HOME PAGE) Ellen and Rebel pause while attacking the Red Rocks.

I have been an Arizona desert rat now for more than a decade, but I am a Western Illinois girl at heart.

I was born and raised not far from Rock Island -- the fictional hometown of Jake and Elwood Blues according to the celebrated Saturday Night Live sketch and the best-selling album, “Briefcase Full of Blues.”

So, naturally, I love the “Blues Brothers” movie – even though the film misplaces the devious duo on the eastern side of my home state and from an orphanage located in Chicago.

The cult classic is too likable to quibble with locations.

There are so many great scenes, including one that came to mind recently while preparing my Wild Bunch Desert Guides for the summer offseason in the Phoenix adventure tours industry.

Before the band’s first surprise comeback gig at Bob’s Country Bunker, Elwood senses a case of mistaken destination. So, he asks the cowboy-clad bartendress from behind his dark sunglasses, porkpie hat and trademark dark suit, “So, what kind of music do you usually have here?”

Without hesitation and in a twangy accent, she responds excitedly: “Oh! We have both kinds! We’ve got Country AND Western!”

After talking to me, I am quite sure summertime guests seeking to book one of our Phoenix hiking tours or Scottsdale mountain bike tours have the same blanched look as Elwood in that scene.

However, those are not misprinted times for booking availabilities on our website or elsewhere.

And it really is not a laughing matter.

But from June 1 to Oct. 1, we have both kinds of starting times – early morning AND earlier morning.

Mike leads a couple of guests from Canada on a Scottsdale mountain bike tour from the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

Mike shows off his Phoenix mountain biking skills on a Sonoran Desert trail ride.
(Top) Mike leads a couple of guests from Canada on a Scottsdale mountain bike tour
from the Wild Bunch Desert Guides. (Bottom) Mike shows off his Phoenix mountain
biking skills on a Sonoran Desert trail ride.

No summer sleep ins on Phoenix hiking tours
The Sonoran Desert is no joke – especially in the summer, when the heat regularly rises over 100 degrees and temperatures can spike well above our hottest monthly average in Phoenix, where the July norm is 106.

The hottest temperature the last two years was 118 – short of the record 122 degrees from 1990 – but alarmingly Phoenix set a new standard last summer with 21 days over 110 – and 104 days with 100-or-better weather.

Those sort of relentless pottery kiln-like conditions easily lead to dehydration, which is a very serious health threat. Hikers without trained guides have actually died before in that withering heat.

I wrote a Blog about a couple of those sadly preventable tragedies just last summer.

To help combat the heat, companies offering Phoenix adventure tours of all kinds peel back their summer hours to the early morning.

The Wild Bunch Desert Guides protect our guests by offering only 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. meet-at-the-trailhead starting times from June 1 to Oct. 1.

For guests requiring pickup service, those times jump up to 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., respectively – although we prefer guests use their own vehicles or utilize a resort shuttle to meet our guides at the trailhead.

There are no other options in the summer. I am not going to argue with you. I am not even going to entertain the idea of you going any later.

Sorry, if your desire is to sleep in so you can “enjoy” a late morning or early afternoon Phoenix hiking tour or Scottsdale mountain bike tour? You will have to call another company.

Trust me, it is simply too dangerous and hardly enjoyable.

I am not trying to be mean or ruin your vacation. I am simply trying to make your visit to the Valley of the Sun safer, more enjoyable and much easier by having a drink with an umbrella in your hand by 10 a.m.

You are trying to hire my mom-and-pop specialty shop for our experience and expertise – so why not get your money’s worth and listen to your expert?

Dehydration is frighteningly real and scarily spirals out of control incredibly quickly. It puts you and the loved ones in your travel party at risk -- and that forces my guides into a compromising position.

Sure, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides are medically trained to recognize the warning signs and act quickly to deal with heat-related emergencies.

My staff also always carries hydration packs and tons of water.

But we would rather be proactive than reactive, so we try and avoid heat issues altogether by going an hour earlier rather than two hours too late.

Also, understand this is not a one-sided fight.

My Phoenix adventure tours company also expects you to be an adult and remain hydrated when visiting.

So, if you are joining us for one of our Phoenix hiking tours or Scottsdale mountain bike tours, make sure the night before to continue drinking water – lots of it – even if you are going out and enjoying that Prickly Pear Margarita or Moscow Mule or that IPA at Four Peaks Brewery.

The Wild Bunch definitely does not want to deal with hungover people – but it has happened. More worrisome than a grouchy mood or that alcohol-soaked smell is the hang over means you already are dehydrated to some degree – and that gets you off to a bad start in the summer heat.

A hangover from an all-night bender also is never a valid excuse to get out of a guided Phoenix adventure tour, either.

So, avoid calling me in the morning to tell me you do not feel well and cannot make it. You are getting charged – as spelled out in our 48-hour cancellation policy.

Sorry, but I am strict on that fact.

So, take care of yourself and live up to your commitments.

Henry Ward has overcome alcoholism to become an acclaimed author and endurance athlete -- as well as a proven pathfinder for the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

Ellen comes roaring down a hill during a mountain bike race.

(Top) Henry Ward has overcome alcoholism to become an acclaimed author and endurance athlete -- as well as a proven pathfinder for the Wild Bunch Desert Guides. (Bottom) Ellen comes roaring down a hill during a mountain bike race.

Guided summer hiking tours in Phoenix
All of my guides are real ass-kickers in their own way -- either in the personal stories and fascinating backgrounds they bring to the job -- or in their real-life athletic achievements.

One of my first Blogs was about these Superheroes of the Sonoran Desert.

Recently, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides has been blessed with some pretty bad-ass guides doing some pretty kick-ass things.

Among the amazing guides you might meet this summer is Henry Ward, who is a published author.

His book, “Running Without The Devil” is about how the sport of running helped him overcome the demons of being a recovering alcoholic.

Henry just finished the Cocodona 250 -- which is a 250-mile footrace over 5 days in early May. Endurance athletes journey through Central Arizona on the Cocodona Trail – an off-the-beaten dirt path linking historic towns and traveling through the Sonoran Desert, as well as majestic canyons and pine forests.

It is an extraordinary accomplishment for one of the top Phoenix hiking tour guides on the planet.

On the Scottsdale mountain bike tour side of our operation, fellow guide Mike Wehri completed the withering AZT 800 Mountain Bike Race.

What is more, this bicycle beast tackled the challenge solo, which means Mike did the race without the benefit of other competitors at the official start.

A lot of elite riders are now doing races on their own time, but they have to have special trackers and other gear.

The AZT race is spectacularly difficult. For instance, participants have to hike across the Grand Canyon with their bike on their back.

There are 300-plus mile and 800-plus mile routes – and Mike chose the latter on the Arizona Trail, which stretches north to south from the Utah border to the Mexican border.

Mike finished in 16 days – an absolutely staggering achievement.

Significantly, I also had one of my longtime and loyal guides finish on the awards podium at the Whiskey 50 Mountain Bike Race.

Ellen Spatt will admit she has been on the bike longer than some of her fellow competitors have been alive, but she is still crushing it -- and that speaks to another fantastic feat by my staff.

But then, I am already so very proud of all of my guides.

They all were bad asses this year, managing the busiest Phoenix adventure tours season anyone can remember in the industry.

For instance, day after day, Don Arbuckle did a tour. He literally worked six days a week the entire season.

Rebel jumped in and did double and triple tours on the days she worked.

Jay Stewart also kept up a full-time schedule – guiding tours 4-5 days a week -- and he is over 70. What an inspirational warrior.

And, Matt Kalina jumped in and continued helping my business a bunch of times, too.

Matt helped write a Blog in February after guiding a pair of Florida teens and ocean conservationists returning from home after delivering a super message – and superb sculpture – to the NFL’s Super Bowl.

Matt did everything he could for the Wild Bunch – even though he must have been up on Camelback Mountain I bet you 85 days out of the season with his business, Mad Desert Trekking.

Mad Desert is who we refer all of our Camelback-curious guests now – and Matt’s business is going really strong, which is so awesome to hear!

I am so thankful for all of these people – who are not only the lifeblood of my small business -- but are incredible friends who came to my rescue when I was dealing with a lot of life-bending curveballs this season.

At the same time my dog Daisy Mae was experiencing serious health issues – with cancer eventually leading to her being euthanized – I was also moving my mom 1,600 miles from back home to be closer to me and into independent living.

I described those struggles in an April Blog.

So, I had a lot added on top of the daily stresses of running a small mom-and-pop specialty shop. But my guides had my back – and sincerely locked it down. They did some truly great work.

And now as summer starts with Memorial Day Weekend on our doorstep, those guides absolutely deserve time off with their own families and interests this summer.

So, I am going to redouble my efforts to manage our bookings this summer. 

The Wild Bunch is only going to take so many guests on our Phoenix hiking tours and Scottsdale mountain bike tours. After all, there are only so many seats at the table at any great restaurant.

When we were a start-up and looking to take any business we could get? We would stretch extra thin and bend over backwards to make the impossible happen so many times.

But you cannot do that every day for any extended amount of time.

My guides are closer to being Superman than Clark Kent, but in the end, they are only human and have the same wants, needs, and desires as anybody. They all have limitations and frailties, too.

So, I need to protect them now more than ever because they are all so precious to me – and so important to this business of ours.

I do not want them to get injured or burn out in any way.

Like anybody in the Phoenix adventure tours industry, this is their downtime – and many of my guides are taking a month or month-and-a-half off.

So, please understand when we have a skeleton crew during the summer months – and the window of opportunities are restricted to early morning hours for your safety.

My staff will do the absolute best they can for you.

However, accommodating large groups – or making room for those late or last-minute requests – just will not always be possible during the summer.

Laurel and Jay scarf down a snack on a Wild Bunch Desert Guides adventure tour.

Laurel and Jay scarf down a snack on a Wild Bunch Desert Guides adventure tour.

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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