Founded in March 2016, Wild Bunch Desert Guides, LLC, is the love child of transplanted Mountain Biking and Hiking enthusiasts, who simply wanted to share their devotion to those activities and their passion for the beautiful Sonoran Desert with the many tourists coming every year to Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona.
With a dedication to customized details, first-class customer service from expert guides, and an unwavering commitment to deliver once-in-a-lifetime experiences to every guest, the Wild Bunch has grown quickly into one of the premier adventure travel tour companies in the Southwest.
“It’s been incredibly satisfying and very organic,” says Laurel Darren, the current owner/operator, who founded Wild Bunch with her former husband and still-great friend and business proponent Bill Simmons.
“We just put everything we could into it – financially, emotionally and physically in terms of effort. We’ve also been blessed to receive lots of support from our friends and families over the years. Our single-minded goal always has been to craft and deliver each tour to the vision of the guests. It’s been an incredible ride so far, a real group effort to get to this point.”
These days, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides have earned the top rating – five stars – across the board from Tripadvisor, Yelp, Google, and Facebook. Those guests getting personalized attention are now loyal customers, regularly singing the praises of their unforgettable adventures on Social Media. The private boutique service also has earned acclaim from the tourism industry as an award-winner among adventure travel companies.
Despite the many and mounting accolades, though, the Wild Bunch remains the same, small, local mom-and-pop specialty shop, which is the reason personal attention and homespun hospitality continue to be the core exports.
Based in Scottsdale, Wild Bunch specializes in private, customized mountain biking and/or hiking adventure tours while exploring the most spectacular areas of the Sonoran Desert. The super-fun, extremely knowledgeable team of adventure tour operators is made up of highly experienced, certified adventure guides, sharing strong passions for outdoor exploration and guest safety and satisfaction.
Wild Bunch Desert Guides caters to all skill and fitness levels, and often handles large special events, such as corporate excursions, organization retreats and customer appreciation outings. However, because of our flair for the personal touch, the Wild Bunch continues to specialize in small groups, especially families with children and those celebrating milestones, including birthdays and anniversaries.
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Phoenix & Scottsdale Adventure Tour Guides - About The Wild Bunch:
Laurel Darren, a.k.a. “Ol’ Sparkly Eyes,” lives in a world filled with colorful, shimmering glitter, eccentric knee socks, and fun costumes. A high-energy force field around her has created many safe, fun, and amazing hiking and mountain biking experiences as the founding owner and operator of one of the best adventure travel tour companies
in the beautiful Sonoran Desert of Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona.
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 -- “Ol’ Sparkly Eyes” has graduated to competing in many races as an adult, from road running to road cycling, cyclo-cross to Mountain Bikes, and even Duathlon and Triathlon “Ironman” competitions. In 2017, Laurel completed a R2R2R Grand Canyon with a pal in 22 hours.
Her other racing accomplishments include:
- 30 marathon finishes, including the 2009 Boston Marathon, and 5 Ultra trail run finishes;
- Ironman Louisville finisher in 2009, Leadville 100 Mountain Bike race buckle finisher in 2016;
- Current record holder Single Speed 104 Barn Burner (2016);
- Several other podium finishes in Single Speed mountain bike category and geared category;
- 6 years of crewing Race Across America (RAAM) with 2016 crew for a SOLO champion;
- 2-time Bisbee 1000 Great Stair Climb finisher.
When not spreading glitter on the hiking and mountain biking trails or insisting guests hug a cactus for a photo, Laurel loves to ride her mountain bike with different groups, especially the single speeders. Another favorite is hiking with her Plott hounds, Daisy Mae, and Waylon. “Ol’ Sparkly Eyes” also is involved with many local mountain biking groups including DFMBA and AZ Gravel Rides.
Laurel's experience as a senior mountain bike guide for four years at Arizona Outback Adventures presented her with opportunities on her journey to create relationships as well as perfect a skill set that includes attention to safety and knowledge of proper trail etiquette. “Ol’ Sparkly Eyes” was known for the most positive Tripadvisor reviews and was THE MOST REQUESTED GUIDE
for private day tours.
Upon leaving AOA, the super-fun certified guide went into business herself, founding one of the best adventure tour companies in Phoenix and Scottsdale in Arizona. At Wild Bunch Desert Guides, Laurel gets to live a daily dream of helping provide the adventure of a lifetime for each guest.
Don has enjoyed a wide and varied background and work career but continues to include athletics as a way to stay fit and healthy. His first college degree came in Biology/Chemistry, and upon graduation, began working for a pharmaceutical company – the perfect job for a college graduate, working for a drug company, he jokes looking back.
After 20 years in corporate America, Don opened his first company, a consulting firm with clients in industries as varied as Aerospace, Automotive, Computer Manufacturing, Food, Pharmaceuticals, Government and Military Agencies.
Among the other highlights on our ageless tour guide’s long resume, Don has been a professional Magician and a professional Musician, performing at the 1972 Inaugural Ball and still owning a home recording studio.
Unlike Don’s frequently changing career direction, family has been a constant in the life of one of the most veteran of adventure tour operators in the Sonoran Desert of Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona. Don has been married for 47 years to his wife Debbie, and together they share two sons and five grandchildren. Don also is an avid Disney fan – make sure to ask to see his wedding ring – having enjoyed countless trips to Disneyland.
When not out on the trails, Don spends time at Arrowhead Cadillac helping customers into their dream luxury car. Having tried retirement twice already -- apparently neither attempt “took,” he jokes -- Don loves to spend time exploring the desert trails and sharing his love of the outdoors with others. Don especially enjoys teaching his guests with Wild Bunch Desert Guides everything he knows about the history, geography, flora, and fauna of the Sonoran Desert.
Matt Kalina grew up long-distance running, canoeing, and eating cheese in West Central Wisconsin before pulling up stakes and moving to the dry heat of Arizona in 1999. He has stayed upright and, on his feet, — for the most part — while expanding interests to include hiking, trail running, mountaineering, technical canyoneering and everything else in between, from multi-day backpacking and pack rafting to Ultra running. While doing all this, the most skilled of the Wild Bunch Desert Guides has explored the Western wild lands, taking photos along the way.
Matt is a professional Arizona adventure guide for a wide range of active-sports disciplines, including hiking, backpacking, climbing, canyoneering, rappelling, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and mountain biking. He and his wife Lisa raise rescued cats, make pizza from scratch every week, run on the Green Belt Path and ride their beach cruiser bicycles around Old Town Scottsdale, Arizona. They surf when they can, run marathons together across the country and are restoring a vintage 1960s 14-foot camping trailer. They are huge fans of all kinds of live music.
Matt holds outdoor certifications including PADI Open Water Diver, Basic Sailing and Wilderness First Responder. He is an avid wilderness conservationist, member of Arizona Mountaineering Club, steward with McDowell Sonoran Conservancy and founding board member of Friends of the Sonoran Desert National Monument.
By day, this Superman of adventure tour operators works as marketing communications manager for Tomcar All-Terrain Vehicles, which are manufactured in Phoenix, as well as the account director for a strategic marketing agency.
Matt was a reporter and editor of a daily newspaper in Wisconsin and a journalist specializing in economic change during his travels in Eastern Europe. Matt is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Communications Arts Department and former chairman of the City of Scottsdale Neighborhood Enhancement Commission. His most vivid outdoor experience? Fording a glacial river in Alaska’s Denali National Park. Matt’s all-time backcountry fear is being faced with an empty bottle of hot sauce.
Mark joined the Wild Bunch Desert Guides after constantly running into owner Laurel Darren on the trails at Brown’s Ranch while she was working with guests.
A pleasure to stop and get a hug from, Mark always took the time before joining the company to make guests feel like they had a new Mountain Biking pal in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona.
Then one day, a Facebook message arrived, explaining Mark might as well become one of the adventure tour operators, since he was spending so much time with guests of one of the best adventure tour companies in the Sonoran Desert.
Mark started mountain biking at 16 years old and has resided in Arizona for 15 years. Do not let his accent fool you, though -- he has that southern twang that will make you start talking like him when riding alongside.
Mark will not volunteer this fact, but we will -- he is a former pro golfer and still helps many people with their swing and game via his personal business -- THE GOLF YOGI
Mark also has completed over 40 triathlons, 11 half-Ironmans (distances, 70.3 miles) and is an Ironman finisher.
Mark and his wife are incredible Mountain Bikers, and “Sunday Fun Day” often finds Mark hiking or biking with his wife and daughter somewhere in our Sonoran Desert.
Mark is super fun and if you are lucky to get him as your guide -- you may also find yourself a golf partner to help improve your swing.
And just so you know... if he yells "FORE!" he may not be talking about incoming golf balls, but I'd duck just the same.
Buckeye born and raised in Lima, Ohio, Mike has discovered a love of the Sonoran Desert and an abiding attraction of everything wild from spending as much time as possible outdoors since relocating to Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona. One of the most valued adventure tour operators at Wild Bunch Desert Guides grew up playing in the dirt of woods and farmlands; flying model rockets and airplanes; and developing that trademark Midwestern toughness and resolve as a very mediocre football player, he jokes.
During college, Mike discovered the joy of camping and backpacking in the Appalachian Mountains, and then got his hands on a cheap steel Mountain Bike while finishing his education at The Ohio State University. Mike's student and professional life revolved around research and design of turbomachinery during this time, and he was hired to configure process gas compressors at the Sundyne Corporation in Arvada, Colorado.
During nine years of residency in Colorado, Mike started a family with his high school sweetheart wife, Maggie. They have three happy kids: Sam, Ellie, and Bea. Their brood can often be found around a campfire, fishing in a lake, riding Mountain Bikes, or resting finally in sleeping bags. Mike's family tries to get the most use possible out of their National Parks Pass every year, but also never miss an opportunity to visit a beach.
Mike tried his hand at racing Mountain Bikes and running long-distance relay races, but soon realized that speed is not his strong suit. However, that has not stopped him from focusing on improving his skills and fitness to savor every moment spent outdoors. His most recent adventures have taken him on multi-day trips to Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and the Baja in Mexico while “bikepacking” – that’s long-distance Mountain Biking while carrying camping gear. Mike also has experienced guided Enduro riding in the Provence region of Southern France.
A chance meeting at a kids' playdate, and sharing a mutual admiration over Mountain Biking adventures, led to Mike joining the Wild Bunch Desert Guides in a dual role, as both a qualified biking and hiking guide. Mike added even more to his game, though, by learning about the local history and the natural desert from other guided trips, field books and Sonoran Preserve events, but mostly just getting out there to see, smell, taste, and feel the surroundings. Mike often leaves a little blood and sweat on the trail, all while wearing an endless smile.
Having lived in the legendary “Valley of the Sun” since the early sixties, Jay has experienced many of the wonders offered by the Sonoran Desert in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona.
Jay started Mountain Biking in 1984 when the movement first started. Having been a motorcycle desert racer since the ‘70's, the Mountain Biking fit right in and ultimately changed his life. We don't want to say Jay is "Old", but you do the math, let's just call him "experienced".
Since those pioneering days of Mountain Biking, Jay has been president of a road cycling club, ridden thousands of miles on Road and Mountain Bike adventures, and participated in numerous charity events raising awareness and funds through cycling for those in need.
The bike-riding passion eventually led Jay to become a certified cycling instructor through the League of American Bicyclists, teaching safety, skills, and mentoring, both on and off road.
Having retired as an Aerospace Machinist, Jay claims he now is living a cyclist’s dream, working part-time in a bicycle shop, and serving as an indispensable adventure tour operator with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
"It don't get no better than that,” Jay says. "Come on out and ride with us!!! You will enjoy the uniqueness of our desert and landscapes that you can only see on a bike."
Rebecca aka Rebel comes from West Virginia (in your best accent say that!) Rebel grew up loving the outdoors and playing with the boys. Native American/Wild West culture became her passion as her daddy used to bring home photos from his western travels in the U.S. Navy.
Rebel worked loading semi-trucks for 20 years for Rite Aid while moonlighting as an EMT from 1982-1995 and worked on a Search and Rescue canine-specific crew. Rebel always has explored the outdoors via mountain biking and hiking. Her hiking background includes educating people on how to prepare and eat wild edibles and enjoy the surroundings in remote locations.
Rebel has been giving people amazing “yee haw” adventures for Johnny Ringo’s Carefree Jeep Adventures for over 10 years out of Cave Creek, Arizona. She has been Johnny’s most loved and requested adventure tour operators for the better half of a decade. So Wild Bunch Desert Guides is extremely humbled and happy Rebel is on our team, too.
Rebel has no fear when it comes to taking guests for a bushwhack hike or Mountain Bike ride and she carries the appropriate supplies for any situation possible in the Sonoran Desert of Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona. When not having a blast “jeepin,” hiking or Mountain Bike riding, Rebel has her own personal Native American-inspired artwork she makes and sells and works as a ranch hand in Cave Creek. Rebel has been married over 20 years and has two dogs.
Along with her ever-present plyers (we say PLIIIIERS
for the accent), Rebel always will give you an adventure that will be educational and maybe a little wild. She always receives rave reviews like this from our guests:
“I had an amazing desert mountain biking ride with guide Rebel. She was so knowledgeable about the history of the area and was able to tailor the difficulty of the ride to my ability. I was pretty exhausted after the ride -- but in a really good way. I highly recommend using Wild Bunch Desert rides. Highlight of my stay in Phoenix.” – Craig, Cuenca, Ecuador, on Tripadvisor, Nov. 20, 2020
Ellen is an amazing Mountain Biker and hiker with a huge love of the outdoors.
A retired Firefighter, Ellen brings all kinds of fun and enthusiasm to each tour. Her advanced medical and safety training also delivers plenty of peace of mind for her guests with Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
When not out hiking or Mountain Biking with guests, you can find Ellen on an adventure or taking care of people at Local Jonny's in Cave Creek.
Ellen is one of the most gifted adventure tour operators in The Valley, so we here at Wild Bunch Desert Guides consider ourselves lucky to have her on the crew! Many of our guests certainly agree!
“We climbed Camelback with Ellen! She was outstanding! She was waiting for us just as she stated and had everything we needed for our trip. She explained everything along the way and gave us all the encouragement we needed for our first climb. Truly an outstanding experience!” – Michael, Kearney, Neb., on Tripadvisor, Jan. 2018
“Loved it so much, I booked a hike for the next day with another guide, Ellen, who guided me through Cave Creek. She was excellent! Would highly recommend this service to anyone, no matter what your level of experience is.” – Sharpie, Madison, Wis., on Tripadvisor, March 2017
“Laurel, Ellen and Tommy didn't just guide us, they hiked with us, and after four hours we felt as if we had made new and wonderful friends. They were also attentive to others on the trail, checking in with hikers who looked like they might need assistance and offering guidance to a mountain biker who had gone astray. These hikes were the highlight of our trip and truly I can't say enough about the experience. Pricing is more than reasonable and frankly the opportunity to spend time with these experienced guides -- Priceless!” – Katherine, Chicago, Ill., on Tripadvisor, May 2017
Now that you've been introduced to all the awesome Wild Bunch Desert Guides Tour Guides, let's book that adventure. Simply click on your choice below of Hiking, Mountain Biking, or for the fit and adventerous, Hike & Bike Combo Adventures.