Nobody loves the referees, it has been suggested, except by their families and friends -- and that's assuming those officials stay away from working a game involving a favorite team of those loved ones. If so, Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner and operator Laurel Darren is a notable exception – and for one very good reason after one of the Phoenix mountain bike tours she guided recently.
Veterans Day every day on Phoenix hiking tours
“Laurel was absolutely wonderful to communicate with. I booked the 90-minute tour with transportation for our Board members, who were in Arizona for meetings. She took great care of them and they enjoyed themselves so much! Getting to see Arizona and unwind before all their meetings started was the perfect start to their trip. I hope I get to book more hikes with this company in the future!” – Heidi, Los Angeles, Calif., on Tripadvisor, April 2019
Lead guide Rebel (center) explains a portion of the Sonoran Desert while surrounded by a circle of Veterans during one of the Phoenix hiking tours
from the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
Like most Americans, when Veterans Day rolls around each November, I think about family members and friends who have served or are serving in a military branch of our great country.
However, as the owner and operator of a Phoenix adventure tour company, my thoughts the last few years also have drifted to the many Veterans my Wild Bunch Desert Guides have had the honor of taking on Phoenix hiking tours or Scottsdale mountain bike tours.
So, at the forefront of my mind Thursday will be a strong group of kick-ass women the Wild Bunch had the pleasure of hosting recently for some hiking tours Phoenix Az style.
The women graduated together in 2002 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and each went on to serve as officers in the greatest army the world has ever seen.
Some of the group remains in the military while others are now contributing to our country as business owners themselves.
One of these real-life superheroes is in fact a business partner of mine as a vendor working with the Wild Bunch.
And that is precisely how I met this amazing squad of sisters.
(TOP) The Veterans take in a majestic cluster of cactus on the trails during a Wild Bunch Desert Guides hiking tour in the Sonoran Desert. (BOTTOM) Prickly Pear Cactus Lip Balm from Arizona Sun Products with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides logo.
Veteran of Scottsdale hiking tours
Retired Army Captain Lindsey Wallace runs Arizona Sun Products – the business her parents Bob and Ellen founded in 1982 when Lindsey was 1 year old.
Among the many amazing all-natural products from “AZ Sun” is the Prickly Pear Cactus Lip Balm bearing our logo that Wild Bunch gives to each guest on Phoenix hiking tours.
I remember first meeting Lindsey during my second year as the owner of my small mom-and-pop shop.
I was presenting at a meeting for the local tourism promoter “Experience Scottsdale.” Every person from every department from that marketing organization was there. Also presenting were Arizona Sun Products and Castle Hot Springs Resort.
I will never forget sitting there listening to Lindsey and her father talk about their company and products -- which includes sunscreen and the lip balm – which they distribute all over Arizona in boutique shops and resorts.
“For everything fun under the sun,” the company advertises.
During the presentation, Lindsey mentioned they have this Prickly Pear Lip Balm, and can put custom logos on the containers to offer a fun promotional item.
I remember thinking, “Oh my God, we GOTTA do that someday!” However, I was only in my second year of business, so I had no money to spend on anything extra like that.
But fast forward to right before the pandemic at the beginning of 2019, when I was trying to figure out something special that we could give our hiking guests as a thank you for booking with us.
Wild Bunch already was putting custom water bottles on the bikes for guests of our Phoenix mountain bike tours.
So, when I called Lindsey about adding the lip balm to my business, I was super excited because that had long been a goal.
Here was a piece of Arizona guests were taking home with them – and it was practical enough to use all the time, no matter what terrain or weather or whatever part of the country or world they lived in. Everybody can use some extra lip balm!
Lindsey and I have been working together now for over 2 years, so we have provided lip balm to well over 500 guests. I also have sponsored 3-4 mountain bike gravel races and sent lip balm to give to their participants as a piece of SWAG in the race goodie bags.
Through my friend Sarah Cooper and her company Relentless Events, I sponsor the Iowa Wind and Rock and Iowa’s Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra.
From that, I actually have had racers look up my company and send me emails of thanks with pictures showing them using the lip balm through my Wild Bunch Desert Guides web page.
That is so classy when race participants take the time to look up and thank sponsors like that!
So, between being a gift for guests and bonus for the races I sponsor, the lip balm has helped spread the name of my little company far and wide – and the reminders come in every so often from all over the world.
Among the coolest destinations? I had one emailer send me a picture of herself standing on the London Bridge with the lip balm in her hand.
From the pictures and correspondence, I know our lip balm has reached at least four continents – North and South America, Europe, and Australia for sure.
Members of Veterans hiking group admire some of the Sonoran Desert vegetation on their Wild Bunch Desert Guides adventure.
Veterans’ hiking tours Phoenix AZ
I knew from the first moment I met Lindsey the Prickly Pear Cactus Lip Balm was going to be a hit for the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
Not only is the lip balm a high-quality product and superb promotional item – it comes from a great family company and fantastic friend that shares the same values and sensibilities as me and my small mom-and-pop shop.
Lindsey grew up in the family business working both in the warehouse and at their old retail store in Old Town Scottsdale.
Upon graduation from West Point, Lindsey was commissioned by the U.S. Army as a Signal Corps Officer -- serving in Germany, Italy, and Afghanistan.
Thankfully, Lindsey returned home in 2012 to help run Arizona Sun Products and reclaim some valuable family time before her mother passed away in 2015.
For me, working with Lindsey and her company has been a cool dose of “girl power” -- two woman-owned small businesses helping spread Arizona’s sunshine together around the world.
But never did I expect her to reciprocate my business by utilizing the Wild Bunch.
So, I was floored when I got a call from one of Lindsey’s classmates asking me about booking one of our Phoenix hiking tours for an Arizona reunion of their West Point friends.
To me, that was a super huge compliment that Lindsey would suggest the Wild Bunch to her college buddies because I know she collaborates with other companies in the Phoenix adventure tours industry. But Lindsey chose my company, which is a really big honor.
I already was booked to work one of our Phoenix mountain bike tours, but Lindsey gave me a guilt trip and I knew I had to be there.
When someone like Lindsey asks you to be present, you change your schedule and make sure you are there.
I was not even guiding – I was just part of the crew, you know?
But I am really glad Lindsey asked me to come along. She was absolutely right. I would have hated to miss that hike with such an amazing group of women.
There were more than a dozen classmates. Rebel led the hike with Tim and Don also guiding. Rebel is a military kid. Her dad was in the Navy. She is a big advocate for Veterans and the military, so she was really excited that I chose her to be the lead guide.
This group of Veterans learned so much about the Sonoran Desert during our totally private journey. That is what the Wild Bunch does every day of the year – show guests the beauty and reveal the mysteries of this amazing land during a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
However, I never overheard any of them say our hike reminded of their time in the military or if they had ever served in a desert.
None of us really talked about their time in the military. My guides are always respectful of people’s personal lives and privacy because our guests are there to enjoy themselves and not talk about work or home – unless, of course, they wish to share and then we are all ears!
But otherwise, Wild Bunch Desert Guides tries to avoid asking questions on the trails about what guests do or have done so they can escape from their normal lives and just enjoy the experience. One of our Phoenix adventure tours is part of a vacation for most people -- so, we want to help them get a thousand miles away from their troubles or daily routine.
I do know that there were a couple of women business owners in the group, though, because they were chatting me up and gave me some really great advice. They also pointed me in the right direction for how to find and apply for business grants for women. That was SOOOO cool for them to share their wisdom with me.
Like most groups, though, the majority of the talk was about what else they were going to do while they were in Scottsdale and Phoenix. Guests always are asking for tips and feedback on dining and the must-do attractions while in the area.
The Veterans pause during their Wild Bunch Desert Guides hiking tour to take a group picture in the shadow of a couple of iconic Saguaro Cactus.
Veterans’ hiking tours Scottsdale AZ
At one point, I remember stepping back to take in the whole scene.
“Wow, what a beautiful day!” I thought to myself. “And these are the people who made it possible to enjoy it.”
These women made the incredibly demanding choice to go to West Point – and then fought like hell to not only survive but thrive in one of the alphaest of male institutions.
They pursued a path less traveled full of blood, sweat and tears for a higher purpose than themselves.
These women are among the selfless minority that volunteered to keep safe from the evil in this world you, I, everybody, and everything we hold dear. When shit got crazy, these people defended the freedoms we often take for granted – and I still have my life and livelihood because of them.
I am so grateful that there are people out there who make those selfless sacrifices because it is not for everybody. Most people run away from danger -- a very few special individuals go rushing into the fire or run to where the bullets are flying.
I am an endurance athlete used to challenges and adversity, but I was blown away to be among a group of incredibly strong women like that. Hiking in Scottsdale with them was both incredibly touching and super inspiring.
These are some tough, ass-kicking people who have been on the front lines protecting our freedoms – and yet, here they are in the desert chattering like excited school kids on the playground.
These are hardened warriors I definitely would want on my side if a back-alley fight broke out – and yet here they are laughing, giggling, and flashing the sweetest and widest smiles while standing in the shadows of an iconic Saguaro Cactus.
How thrilling it was to watch these bad-ass women let their hair down and have a good time.
With so many crazy things going on in the world these days, I appreciate even more the people who are doing the heaviest lifting in this country and world.
So, I often think about those people that make it possible to enjoy our lives and do something like hike or bike in the desert every day because of their selfless sacrifices.
That is why Phoenix hiking tours with Veterans or Active-Duty Military always are so cool to me.
Personally, I always take the time to thank people who have made those decisions to undertake that responsibility – like I did in my Blog marking Memorial Day.
Wild Bunch Desert Guides has had the honor of taking out many guests who have served our country – or are on a break from their military service.
By making sure these heroes have a good time, one of our Phoenix adventure tours offers a small token of our appreciation for their many sacrifices.
But we should not reserve our collective salute to Veterans to just one day in November.
It should be an everyday thing -- whether we get to thank a Veteran in-person or send a donation to a Veterans cause or simply appreciate living in the greatest country the world has known by enjoying one of our hard-fought freedoms.
I know I am fortunate to do that every day in my professional life -- and even on the “bad days,” I know I am so blessed.
Rebel (left) and Laurel Darren (right) are all smiles while enjoying a Wild Bunch Desert Guides hiking tour with a group of Veterans.