'Tis the Season for hiking tours in Phoenix

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • December 21, 2021

“Took my wife, daughter and I on a relatively easy hike on Christmas Day. We had a great time, learned a lot, saw beautiful desert flora, and spectacular views. I know (the Wild Bunch Desert Guides) do much more challenging stuff, too, but this is what we needed, and they came through.” – Larry, Maplewood, N.J., on Yelp, Dec. 26, 2019

Laurel Darren (center), owner of the Wild Bunch Desert Guides, celebrates in a Yuletide costume with a pair of hiking guests in front of the Camelback Mountain Christmas tree after reaching the summit of the Phoenix landmark. 
Laurel Darren (center), owner of the Wild Bunch Desert Guides, celebrates in a Yuletide costume with a pair of hiking guests in front of the Camelback
Mountain Christmas tree after reaching the summit of the Phoenix landmark.

While waiting for a quick lunch at a drive-thru window the other day, I noticed a sign detailing special hours of operation for the restaurant during the holidays.
No matter where you live, I am sure you have seen something similar several times over in your yuletide hustle and bustle. These sorts of reminders have become as routine as Christmas trees and festive lighting as all sorts of businesses share their special holiday schedules with customers.
My lunch-time memo got me to thinking, though -- I should post something similar to make sure potential guests know my Wild Bunch Desert Guides are open for Phoenix hiking tours and Phoenix mountain bike tours on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as well as New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
Not every Phoenix adventure tours company is running on those holidays. Some do let their guides decide if they want to work on those days.
However, my little 5-star rated mom-and-pop specialty shop has provided these great, last-minute, gift-giving ideas since opening in 2016 – and I thankfully have a loyal and talented crew of guides that agree with me.
The reasons for providing holiday hiking and mountain biking tours are clearer to us as a business than that next glass of Eggnog.
Laurel Darren (green hat), owner of the Wild Bunch Desert Guides, poses with a family during a holiday hike with a breathtaking view behind them. 

Laurel Darren, owner of the Wild Bunch Desert Guides, shows off a yuletide costume featuring a "Grinch"
sweatshirt, striped socks and green hat while posing with a family during a holiday hike with a breathtaking
view behind them.

Phoenix hiking tours: Reason for the season
For starters, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides offer Phoenix hiking tours on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day because there are guests in town who celebrate something other than Christmas – such as Hanukkah or Kwanza or even the Seinfeld-inspired Festivus and its “Airing of Grievances.”
So, for any number of people, Christmas is just another day to “do something” -- so instead of going out to the movies, why not see the beautiful Sonoran Desert with one of the best Phoenix guides showing you the way and keeping you and your family or travel group safe?
There also are Christmas observers celebrating on the road, too, and looking to do something special to mark the occasion.
Hiking tours in Phoenix are an out-of-the-ordinary way to enjoy the holidays and make a lasting, once-in-a-lifetime memory.
Phoenix adventure tours also make a great last-minute gift or stocking stuffer because of the uniqueness of the experience.
“We spent Christmas afternoon exploring the desert as a family and it was SOOOOO COOOOOL,” I remember overhearing one Wild Bunch guest sharing the experience with a friend or family member on an end-of-tour phone call a few years ago.
The Wild Bunch also gets into the spirit of the season to make sure Santa delivers a little something special on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day especially.
So, you might see our guides bring along some fun holiday cookies for the in-tour snack.
Or you might see a certain small business owner dressing up as a Christmas character to guide your group.
The holiday hiking tour I remember the most is when I dressed up as “The Grinch” on one of our Camelback Mountain hiking tours. We have suspended that service for now, but that Christmas Eve the guests were not expecting me to be in costume when I showed up at the hotel -- so that was a great surprise.
I must have been in like 50 pictures that day, and when I got to the top, Camelback Santa had taken off his costume. So, I have a picture of me holding his costume in my hands as if “The Grinch” stole it. 
Posing as  

Posing as "Max," the loyal dog from "The Grinch," Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren has some
holiday fun, "stealing" Camelback Santa's suit during a memorable Christmas hike to the summit of the iconic
Phoenix landmark, Camelback Mountain.

Holiday hours for Phoenix hiking tours
On Christmas Eve (Dec. 24), I try and get all my guides out of the field and back home by 1 p.m. so they can spend the rest of the holiday with their families. That means starts of 8:30 a.m. or 11 a.m.
Personally, though, I will still take guests myself out on Phoenix hiking tours in the afternoon. But I am already all booked up on that day.
Christmas morning (Dec. 25) there are no guides available. Everybody takes the morning off – and I respect that family time.
The Wild Bunch Desert Guides do offer Christmas Day tours in the afternoon of Dec. 25, though. That means starts of 1 p.m. or around sunset.
New Year's Eve (Dec. 31) and New Year's Day (Jan. 1) -- the Wild Bunch has even more availability, with us operating under normal business hours – that means Phoenix adventure tours available at 8:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and our special sunset offerings.
By the way, just to make sure this detail is up front, we add a 20-percent gratuity to the journey’s total right off the bat on all four days because of the holiday.
We normally suggest a minimum 20-percent gratuity for our guides – same as the tip for a great wait-person at a restaurant. But on the holiday, that is an automatic to reward the generosity of an expert guide’s time as a medically trained professional pathfinder.
If interested in a holiday hike or mountain bike tour, call direct at (602) 663-0842 instead of trying to book online.
Most guests don't book on a holiday. Some I think can’t believe we are open and available. But some have their own holiday plans, of course, or simply try and respect the family time for others.
The hardest part for me is when a guest goes the other way.
For example, we had somebody call recently, and they were like, “Hey, we want to go out on Christmas Eve,” and I'm like, “Well, our only option is you can either do an 8 a.m. meet-at-the-trail or I'm going to allow a 10 a.m. so my guide can be done by 1 p.m. and back home to celebrate with their family.”
But the guy came back with, “Oh, we want to take an easy morning and eat a late breakfast and make a lazy drive to the trail, so we were thinking more about meeting around 1 p.m.”
And I'm like, “Sorry, that’s not going to happen. We don’t have any 1 p.m. availabilities on Christmas Eve. My guides have families, too.”
The caller made my point for me. He complained that some of the other guiding outfits in the Valley of the Sun are closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
“Yep,” I said. “Sorry to hear that. At least we are open, but just like the restaurants open on the holidays, we do have limited hours.”
I hate turning people away.
I hate letting down guests.
But unfortunately, we can’t be everything to everyone.
The Wild Bunch is open and willing to work with somebody willing to work with us by understanding the limitations and the fact my guides also have real lives, too.
We try our best to make things happen for people, but a very few fail to grasp the reality. Even Disney World has limited hours on the holiday so EVERYONE can celebrate.

Posing as

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 www.wildbunchdesertguides.com or call 602-663-0842.


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