Wild Bunch Desert Guides bring outdoor summer fun to Lake City

by Becky Phillips, Lake City Silver World • February 01, 2024
Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren (front) is all smiles with a Colorado mountain bike tours group posing in front of the Cinnamon Pass sign in Lake City, Colo. Ms. Darren’s business, based in the Phoenix area of Arizona, offers guided hiking and biking during the summers in her remote vacation home tucked into the San Juan Mountains. (Courtesy Laurel Darren/Wild Bunch Desert Guides)Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner Laurel Darren (front) is all smiles with a Colorado mountain bike tours group posing in front of the Cinnamon Pass sign in Lake City, Colo. Ms. Darren’s business, based in the Phoenix area of Arizona, offers guided hiking and biking during the summers in her remote vacation home tucked into the San Juan Mountains. (Courtesy Laurel Darren/Wild Bunch Desert Guides)



Wild Bunch Desert Guides, a hiking and biking guide service, started in Scottsdale, Arizona. For seven years, the company has seen hikers and mountain bikers enjoying the mountains and trails around Scottsdale and Phoenix almost as much as the owner Laurel Darren does. Her face exudes joy and a deep love for all things outdoors when she talks about her company. Laurel explains “I’m originally from Davenport, Iowa, but wanted to find somewhere with 300+ days of sun a year.” The business has grown, so much so that Laurel employs independent contractors as guides to help her with the demand. Ninety percent of her clientele is families. The oldest customer was 92 years old, the youngest was two...so far.

Laurel came to Lake City with her boyfriend, Brett Talcott, on vacation to do some fly-fishing and hiking. “We came two summers in a row, staying in the same cabins for two weeks at a time. We made friends with locals Lydia McNeese, a special education teacher at the school, and Amanda Hartman, owner of San Juan Soda Fountain. We all began to hike and ride bicycles together.” They still do, and are looking forward to the Alpine 50, an epic, 50-mile, alpine endurance bike race with 6,000+ feet of climbing, scheduled for August 26, 2023. (See lakecityalpine50.com for more information.) Laurel wants to start a biking club here. She’d like to hear from anyone who might also be interested in joining this type of group.

Laurel and Brett (an employee at Rene’s Garage here in Lake City), along with their two Plott Hounds named Waylon (4 years old) and Hazel (1 year old), live here from May to October, and in Scottsdale from October to May. Occasionally, they enjoy renting a vehicle from High Altitude, heading over the mountains to Silverton’s Handlebars Food and Saloon for lunch, and then to Rocky Mountain Funnel Cake Factory for dessert. Another favorite thing to do is hiking the 401 Trail in Snowmass in September. Snowmass is not far from Crested Butte.

Laurel had heard of other guide services in the area and knew that some were successful, some were not. Due to strict regulations with getting permits for specific BLM (Bureau of Land Management) trails and mountains, creating annual reports for them, and insurance, it can be a tough business to get into and flourish. BLM is very supportive of hiking and biking companies, but they do require a percentage of what she makes. “Wild Bunch adventure guides are both patient and caring enough to take the time necessary to assure your experience is out-of-this-world fun and picture-album memorable. Our pathfinders are also medically trained to help keep you safe and give you peace of mind on your private hiking tour or mountain biking trip in the unlikely event of an accident.” states the website.

“The most popular destination around here has been Cataract Gulch” says Laurel. Time after time that area (near Sherman Campground passed Lake San Cristobal on County Road 30) proves to be a favorite for novices as well as veterans. It is a beautiful area and pictures just don’t do it justice.

There are other favorite climbs too. Wild Bunch Desert Guides is BLM permitted for Handies Peak. Laurel’s face lights up when she talks about a recent successful hike to the summit between guide Lydia and a customer named Amanda Watson from Dallas, Texas. “I was just so proud of them. It was a big deal. We specialize in taking families, and first-timers out.” says Laurel. The sense of accomplishment for a new hiker is palpable. A smile spreads across Laurel’s face as she discusses how fun it is to take a first-timer out. “It’s amazing to see them realize they’re really going to do it...they’re going to reach it.”

Laurel enjoys getting involved in local activities too. She’s volunteered for The Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run, an ultramarathon that is 102.5 miles long. The course has a cumulative vertical gain of 33,197 feet of climb and 33,197 feet of descent for a total elevation change of 66,394 feet, and takes place at an average elevation of about 11,000 feet. The high point is 14,048 feet. She was also a sweeper in the 2022 San Juan Solstice 50. She spends her free time listening to friends Dustin Menzies, Justin Hill, and Jeff Heaton singing live at music venues around town, when possible.

She’s been an athlete for as long as she can remember and has always offered to take friends hiking and biking. “Hiking allows for a different view of the trails than most people see.” says Laurel. The customers often see Laurel as friendly, spiritual, and loving the earth’s energy. “Most of my clients become personal friends. We have a lot of return business. I enjoy watching the kids in some of these families talk about their hiking or bike trip on social media. Many of them have never been hiking or mountain biking before hiring us. I’ve even seen some of them become excellent collegiate athletes. That’s fun!” remarks Laurel.

To book your hiking or mountain biking trip, call Wild Bunch Desert Guides at 602-663-0842 or go to wildbunchdesertguides.com.


 
Laurel Darren, owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, is all smiles with one of her most popular adventure destinations, Handies Peak, looming behind her.

Laurel Darren, owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, is all smiles with one of her most popular adventure destinations, Handies Peak, looming behind her.

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