Summer fun for Phoenix hiking guides

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • June 05, 2022

“We had an amazing hike with Laurel. She has the personality and love to make your journey the best experience ever!! Will be back for more!! Life changing!!!” – Amy, Davenport, Iowa, on TripAdvisor, March 2017

Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren (center) is flanked by friends Justin Hill (left) and Michael Underwood (right) during a
Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren (center) is flanked by friends Justin Hill (left) and Michael Underwood (right) during a "recon"
mission scouting out the trails Laurel's company is offering this summer for Colorado Hiking Tours. The breathtaking beauty in the remote Lake
City region of the San Juan Mountains includes rushing waterfalls and lush forests, as seen in this photo from Cataract Gulch. Hill is the new
owner of Lake City Brewing Company (website: while Underwood is a local photographer in the Hinsdale County seat (website: 

The summer season for Phoenix hiking tours officially kicked off June 1 with cooler than expected temperatures.

The thermometer failed to hit 100 as expected -- settling instead for an unseasonably chilly 99 degrees.

Ba-dum-tss. Cue the laugh track.

However, the Sonoran Desert is no joke – as evidenced by triple-digit heat reported the next three days and forecast right through Labor Day weekend in September.

Phoenix’s first severe heat warning of the summer already has been issued for June 9 with the pottery kiln temps expected to rise to 110.

Already appearing in jeopardy are last summer’s records for 115-degree days (14), 110-degree days (53), 105-degree days (102) and 100-degree days (145).

But then, this “Weather Girl” saw this pressure cooker coming a month ago.

With conditions already in the 90s regularly and rising, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides got an early jump on the usual early-morning restrictions to summertime starting times in the Phoenix adventure tours industry.

Usually from June 1 to Oct. 1, our hiking tours in Phoenix and mountain bike tours in Scottsdale are only offered at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. for the meet-at-the-trail option.

Plan on being out front of your resort or hotel at 5:30 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. for those requiring pickup service – although we prefer guests use their own vehicles or utilize a resort shuttle to meet our guides at the trailhead.

NO EXCEPTIONS! So please do not ask when booking – either online or during our pre-adventure chat to customize your completely private, once-in-a-lifetime experience!

The weather simply is too dangerous for strenuous activity of any length of time in the unrelenting heat and sunshine in the Valley of the Sun.

While the Wild Bunch is very much open for business, the annual blast furnace and resulting rollback allows Phoenix adventure tours guides much needed and deserved vacation time away.

Included is this small mom-and-pop specialty shop owner, with the ritual of the summertime retreat beginning early to get a head start on a new project during my break.

While scouting trails for the upcoming Colorado Hiking Tours offered by Wild Bunch Desert Guides, owner Laurel Darren (left) poses in front of a majestic mountain peak with three members of the Lake City Hiking Club -- (L-R) Glenn Heumann, John Coy and Howard Berg. One of the Lake City area's trademark majestic mountain peaks looms behind the foursome..

While scouting trails for the upcoming Colorado Hiking Tours offered by Wild Bunch Desert Guides, owner Laurel Darren (left) poses in front of a majestic mountain peak with three members of the Lake City Hiking Club -- (L-R) Glenn Heumann, John Coy and Howard Berg. One of the Lake City area's trademark snow-capped majestic mountain peaks looms behind the foursome.

Phoenix hiking guide transplanted
My boyfriend Brett and I have made our summer vacation destination an annual tradition now, opting for the “Peak Experience” promised in Lake City – which is nestled in Colorado’s incredible San Juan Mountains.

The historic Old West mining town is the seat of the most remote county in the lower 48 United States and boasts more acres (538) and feet of historic boardwalk (500) than actual people (436) -- though the population does swell during June, July, and August when the “Summer Locals” like us invade for the mild mountain temperatures and remote R&R.

Some of those visitors come for the fishing and hunting available like Brett. Others like me go for the area’s hiking, mountain biking and climbing.

Last summer, I was graciously adopted by the Lake City Hiking Club -- as well as my mountain biking companions Amanda Hartman and Lydia McNeese. All of those wonderful people helped show this Phoenix adventure tours owner the breathtaking beauty of over 100 miles of off-road trails.

My first “14’er” was among the many highlights I recounted in a past Blog summarizing last summer (READ HERE).
That getaway reminded me how very important vacations are to people’s physical and mental well-being – and how what I do figures so vitally into that equation.

Last summer also inspired me to resolve to continue bringing amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experiences to the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.

Now, after our best season ever offering Phoenix hiking tours and Scottsdale mountain bike tours, I quite literally am doing that.

And Wild Bunch guests are going to have a chance to meet some of the guides who guided this veteran Phoenix adventure tours guide.

My retreat officially becomes a working vacation June 14 when the Wild Bunch begins offering Colorado Hiking Tours.

During a
During a "recon" mission scouting trails for the Colorado Hiking Tours offered by the Wild Bunch Desert Guides, founding owner Laurel Darren paused for this picture in front of the sign for Cataract Gulch.

Hiking guides Phoenix: Vacation destination
To start with, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides are offering Colorado Hiking Tours with an expert guide four days each week – Tuesday through Friday, from mid-June to Sept. 29.

There is a chance of expanding to more days if the service proves popular – or a guest needs another day to better fit their travel schedule. Please let me know if we can help!

Each hike is scheduled to start at 7 a.m., with guests meeting their guide at Cabin Fever Mercantile and following in a separate vehicle to the desired trailhead.

Except for me, all guides are local natives. But like me, they are all first aid trained, CPR certified and carrying a variety of safety equipment including spot trackers.

Water and snacks are provided, and guests can borrow a Wild Bunch backpack to carry their necessary items – including cellphones and cameras to capture the amazing scenery. Included are picturesque peaks, majestic landscapes, glacier-gouged lakes, rushing water falls and pure mountain streams.

Snow also was on the ground during one of my May “recon missions” on our trails – which are insured and permitted by the Bureau of Land Management.

That is something you do not see every day in Phoenix. Neither is snow-capped mountains and the herds of elk and deer in the area.

While doing some advance scouting, I noticed these trails are going to be kicking a lot of asses!

So, the Wild Bunch has added a 2-hour on-trail option (figure 3 hours total time including drive time to and from the trailhead). That hour out, hour back will be more than enough for most tourists.

But be sure to share with me if you are an experienced hiker and climber looking for a lofty challenge!

The only “14er” offered is Handies Peak – and 48-hours advance notice is necessary for guests to choose a summit attempt for one of the 58 Colorado mountain peaks of at least 14,000 feet in elevation. There is an additional charge to that challenge, too.

Of our other trails, only Alpine Gulch also requires advance notice because water levels at the creek crossings can become impassable making this adventure impossible to safely attempt.

Otherwise, guests can choose the desired trail on the morning of the adventure from our menu of options – Waterdog Lakes Trail, Devils Creek to Devils Lake, and Cataract Gulch.

Please check out the Colorado Hiking Tours page on our website for a brief description of each experience.

Same as any Phoenix adventure tours, the Colorado Hiking Tours are customizable and completely private for only you and your family or travel party.

For groups larger than 7 guests, advance notice is necessary for planning purposes. There is a $15 discount per child 10-and-under accompanied by an adult – but the minimum age for Handies Peak is 8 years old.

Online booking is unavailable. Instead, please call 309-230-2484 or email me through the Wild Bunch website. Cash, Credit Card or Venmo is necessary to reserve a date.

I have a nervous energy building while waiting for the Colorado Hiking Tours to begin.

The prospect of delivering our five-star reviewed reputation and homespun hospitality to this wilderness wonderland truly excites me. And I am thrilled to share this tourist treat with other travelers.

Please join me this summer if you are planning to beat the heat by getting away, too!

Laurel Darren, owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, is all smiles while hiking in Colorado with her Plot Hound, Waylon.

Laurel Darren, owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, is all smiles with her Plott Hound, Waylon, while preparing for Colorado Hiking Tours this


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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