Heather + Michael: Zion National Park Elopement
July 26, 2016
Heather planned her destination wedding from North Carolina and had never been to Zion before. It was so much fun helping her plan and figuring out the perfect location for the ceremony and couple shots. I love the weather we got that day, the clouds and wind made everything come to life.
Heather & Michael’s wedding took place in Zion National Park in a beautiful location called Lee Valley. I meet Heather & Michael at the house they were renting, took some lovely shots there then headed out to Zion to meet Steve Masefield our officiant. With just immediate family attending the ceremony was very intimate. After we hiked around and took some amazing shots showcasing the scenery. This has to be one of my all time favorite weddings! So excited to finally be sharing this one! And if you are a bride who’s thinking about planning your elopement to Zion, check Heather’s story of at the end of the post. xoxo
“When Michael and I met there was an instant attraction that surprised the both of us. Our first date lasted for hours and we both could not stop talking and laughing with one-another. The night of our first date we went our separate ways and one hour after leaving each other we already had a second date scheduled for the following day. This pattern continued and we went on eleven dates in eleven days. We loved spending time with one another and knew during these dates that this relationship was something special. We had no idea what adventures this relationship would lead to but we knew that we were happy.
After eight months of dating we were engaged. We knew we met each other for a reason; we were meant to be together, we were meant to be a unit for life. The wedding planning process did not begin for almost one year after our engagement just because we were in no rush. We were taking adventures of our own and growing our life together and we were not sure what we had wanted for a wedding. As the Bride, I knew that I didn’t want anything too over the top. For me a wedding is about us and our love and the beauty that lies within that. It wasn’t about the event itself, it was about the two of us and our commitment to one another. All I knew is that I didn’t want a large wedding at all. Something simple yet beautiful; something that captured the commitment that was so important to us.
One night Michael and I were trying to decide where in the United States we wanted to explore next for our annual vacation. Every year we like to pick a location in our country and plan a road trip around it where we can explore the beauty that lies here in America. We knew that we wanted to have a wonderful vacation in 2016 but we also knew that we wanted to have a wedding sometime in 2016 or 2017. We had been engaged for over a year at the time and we were ready to start thinking about what we wanted in a wedding and what we were hoping to capture. We knew we wanted an active trip, something where we would be able to explore everything in our surroundings. We decided that we were going to explore the National Parks in Utah and Arizona and we were going to spend our trip hiking and kayaking and truly just being in awe and appreciating everything around us. We live in North Carolina which is a beautiful state in itself, but one thing we love about our annual vacation is that we get to explore a different part of the country and what we see is always astonishing.
We created a list of National Parks and recreation areas that we knew we wanted to explore during our trip and almost immediately we began tossing around the idea of getting married on our trip. For us it was a perfect idea because we were able to plan our wedding and our vacation in one – and our vacation would end up being our honeymoon. This decision began the wedding planning process for me as an out-of-state Bride to a location that neither one of us had ever been to before.
The fact that it was considered a destination elopement allowed us to keep our wedding small and quaint, which is exactly what we wanted. Deciding on our guest list was simple because we knew that everyone would need to travel and we wanted to make sure we were planning our wedding the way that we wanted it. Almost immediately we made the decision to invite our immediate families – simply our parents and our siblings. This gave us a grand total of seven guests, which for most people is a very small wedding.
To be honest I was not sure where I should begin so one day I just started doing research on the internet to help me. Michael and I knew we wanted to get married near or in Zion National Park – this was the first stop on our trip – so our plan was to fly in along with all of our guests and within the first few days, we would host our wedding ceremony. Michael and I wanted to have a very homey feeling for our wedding. That is the best way I can describe it; we wanted it to seem like a beautiful ceremony and not an event. We wanted our families to come together for one of the first times and just enjoy the time and each other’s company. After thinking through our options we decided that we would fly in with all of our guests and we would all stay together in a large vacation home locally, outside of Zion National Park. We would be able to spend a few days together and on the second day of the trip, we would have our ceremony. Our reception would consist of coming home together, cooking, and celebrating our marriage and our time all together as one new family. After the wedding, we would get to explore together or apart and allow everyone to just enjoy the location before heading home. All of our guests would head home after their small trip and we would be able to continue our journey as Mr. and Mrs. Allen.
This was the grand plan that we fell in love with and now I had to find a way to make it happen! The first thing we did is decide on a date and this was simply just done with our own personal schedules in mind. Honestly, this was so easy for us and as soon as we decided on the dates of our entire trip, we made sure to secure the time off from work. We had decided on a wedding date of May 20th, 2016 which meant that we had about 7 months to plan before the big day! Before communicating anything to our families surrounding the dates, I knew I needed to find a photographer that would be available. In terms of vendors and locations, I knew that all we would need would be a vacation home large enough for all of us to stay, a photographer, a florist for my bouquet, an officiant to perform the ceremony, and of course we needed to find a baker because I refused to turn down dessert at my wedding!
Out of nowhere, we went from not thinking about planning our wedding to already having a date and needing to do all of our planning just within 7 months! I started by looking for houses for us to rent out for the trip; luckily my sister was able to help me with this. Because our only reference point was Zion National Park in terms of location, we used Google to really see what was available during the dates we were interested in. Luckily there are so many great vacation rental sites available at the click of a button and we ended up using HomeAway.com to secure the home we would all stay at. After searching for just a week or so, we found a home close to Zion that we thought would be perfect. I felt great about the decision and my sister was able to handle the communication with the homeowner. This can be a tedious process because there are so many sites available but because this is such a popular way to locate accommodations, there are many options all over the world available to you. We carefully spent time reading the reviews of the property and recent stays and many of the homeowners are available to talk to over the phone or via e-mail to communicate your needs and the options they have for you.
Unfortunately, in December of 2015, just six months before the wedding, the home we selected was unavailable. We thought our communication with the homeowners was appropriate and secure but unfortunately, without putting down a deposit immediately, the homeowners sold their home for the dates we thought we had secured. I was devastated because I had such high hopes for the location we selected. We began searching for homes again and we ended up finding a home a bit further away from Zion that was absolutely stunning. It was a lovely 10,000 square foot home with beautiful views from every angle. It had exactly the amount of space we needed for Michael, myself, and of course both of our families; the space was also perfect for our after-ceremony reception. We learned from our first mistake and immediately secured this home for the dates of our elopement. We officially had our accommodations secure.
While we were searching for accommodations I began researching for a photographer. I knew this was one of the first things I needed to do because our wedding was toward the end of May which is right during wedding season. A great photographer was one of the most important pieces of our wedding so I knew I needed to begin conversations immediately. Luckily as an out of state Bride with no knowledge of the location of your ceremony, you can still find some great resources on the internet to guide you! I looked into three different photographers who were easily accessible through a Google search to compare their portfolios, pricing, and honestly, I just wanted to engage them in conversation via e-mail. I met Shannon Carr with Sweetly Photography and we immediately started talking about the packages she offers and just about the wedding in general.
After talking with Shannon, Michael and I knew that we wanted her as our photographer. This was our first connection with someone that is local to Zion and Shannon offered so much more to us than just being our photographer. She somewhat became a planning resource for us; someone that was able to scout out the area and help us with selecting a ceremony location and she also gave us information on things we should consider when hosting a wedding in the park. Beginning conversations with Shannon was the best thing we could possibly do because we were already thrilled with her reviews and her portfolio available online but when we began talking it was clear that our styles were similar. The fact that she was available to give us insight on aspects of the wedding that I was otherwise on my own about was exactly what I needed.
Working with Shannon was very easy and we were able to talk through the types of photos we wanted and also what we didn’t want. Shannon also introduced us to Steve Masefield who would end up being our officiant for the ceremony. I really cannot stress enough how crucial it was in the planning process to connect with someone who could guide us and connect us with our local vendors. We were able to quickly begin a conversation with Steve via e-mail and we were able to easily secure our ceremony date. Michael and I scheduled a time to “meet” Steve over the phone and talk through the creation of our actual ceremony. This was all a very easy process for us because Steve was able to guide us through ceremony options after talking to us and hearing about our story and what we were looking to incorporate. Steve was able to make sure we knew all we needed to complete surrounding obtaining our marriage license, which was also very great. He was even able to provide with me online resources that detailed the marriage license process for the state of Utah.
With Shannon and Steve’s help, we actually decided on a ceremony location. Shannon was kind enough to provide us options and photos that she thought fit what we were looking for. We simply wanted a place that was quiet and open, with amazing views of the surroundings. Zion can be very crowded and if you have your wedding inside the park, there are only a few locations you are permitted to use. Shannon introduced us to a location known as Lee Valley; it was private property that would absolutely be quaint and beautiful. It was essentially a large open field with Zion’s beautiful peaks and sandstone formations in the background. To be able to find a location like this, we felt very lucky. And this was all the help of Shannon and Steve working together to make us feel comfortable with the decision. Our wedding was in five months and we had secured our accommodations, our photographer, our officiant and our ceremony location.
It now became time for me to search for my wedding dress. The story of me finding my dress is something that many would not believe. I was nervous for a few reasons: first, my wedding was in five months. Depending on the style dress you are interested in, you really should begin looking sooner than five months to allow for alterations and any changes you would like. Because our wedding was a beautiful elopement in the mountains of Zion, I knew that I wanted something that would flow and was comfortable. Another reason I was nervous about finding my wedding dress was that I do not love to shop – contrary to many women. Dress shopping was something that I did not want to make an event of; I wanted to do my research and hopefully, find my wedding dress on my first try!
I began looking at Pinterest for wedding dresses just to get an idea of the different styles out there. I kept finding these absolutely beautiful and elegant wedding dresses that were exactly the style I loved. I found that the majority of these dresses were sold at a store known as BHLDN. I had never heard of this store but immediately began looking at the dresses and all of the wedding ideas and décor they have available online. I fell in love with everything on their website and then I realized that they have actual store locations in a few of the major cities in the United States. Unfortunately there was no BHLDN store here in North Carolina, however, there was a store in Georgetown, right outside of Washington DC which is simply a few hours from me. I knew exactly what I needed to do.
My grand plan was that I was going to secure an appointment and Michael and I would make a trip out of it. I knew I wanted to go wedding dress shopping with Michael, because that is what made me feel the most comfortable. We made it a point to plan our wedding in a way that would bring little to no stress and we were going to make decisions based on our happiness and what we ultimately wanted. Finding my wedding dress was no different. Because my family is from New England we actually took a few days off and did a road trip up to New England to visit my family. On the way up north, I had a dress appointment scheduled at BHLDN – Georgetown and the plan were for us to find my dress during our one-hour appointment. This was a bold plan, I realize that looking back. In all the research I had done online, BHLDN was the one store that I fell in love with. The dresses were not only stunning but also affordable. The styles were exactly what I was looking for.
Just as planned we went on our trip in the end of January 2016, just four months prior to the wedding, and our first stop was at BHLDN- Georgetown. We pulled about four dresses to try and the first three options just were not working for me. I was feeling upset because I knew that I needed and wanted to find a dress there on that trip. I didn’t have a back-up plan; I just knew that I would find something at BHLDN and I was counting on it. I had found one gown, the Mina Gown, online at BHLDN and so I asked the consultant if I could try this dress on. I wasn’t sure if I could pull off this style of dress but when I put it on, I just knew it was exactly what I wanted. This was the first dress I would show Michael and when I stepped out of the dressing room I just felt beautiful; I was in tears in a beautiful gown. This was my dress. We took up the majority of our one-hour appointment but at the end of that hour I had located and purchased my wedding dress and it would be shipped to my house within 5-7 business days. BHLDN is a store that does not offer alterations so I would have the dressed shipped to me and if I wanted to do alterations I would be able to do so. Just like that my plan worked and I had purchased a gown that I fell in love with.
When we returned from our trip to New England the dress was waiting for me. I was lucky enough to not have to do any alterations on my gown which was a miracle in itself. Being a girl that doesn’t love shopping, you can imagine how much I do not enjoy fittings or alterations so someone must have been working on my side! I knew that Michael and I wanted to get him a beautiful navy blue suit and we found one that fit him perfectly. His ensemble was something so easy to put together, so I was also grateful for this. The last items left on my list were to secure a florist simply for my bouquet and locate a baker in the area.
After doing research I was able to find Bloomers Flowers and Décor located in St. George, Utah. Knowing very little about florists I really relied on reviews, testimonials, and their portfolio to make my decision. I was lucky enough to secure a spot to have my bouquet made even though I booked late in comparison to many. Especially with May being a part of wedding season, I was lucky enough that Bloomers was able to accommodate my bouquet as well as a boutonniere for Michael. I had some photos of flowers and bouquets that I loved and Kathy with Bloomers was able to determine which flowers from the photos I loved and she was able to assure me that she would be able to create my vision with a bit of a Bloomers spin on it! I was more than happy to hear this and we were almost done with the wedding planning!
Deciding on a baker was very difficult for us mostly because we didn’t need a cake that was too over the top. We truly just wanted a one layer cake that was simple yet lovely. I met Julie with Cupcakes! by Julie through her Facebook page which is where she promotes her business primarily. I spoke to Julie and sent her photos of ideas that we were interested in and she was just great and helped us feel comfortable with our decision- we chose Michael’s favorite, a red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. Julie even went above and beyond and reached out to Bloomers and secured some extra flowers to top our cake with, which really tied in those beautiful simple elements of our elopement. By this time it was February 2016 and we had secured everything we needed for our elopement. With all of the help we received along the way, the planning experience wasn’t stressful at all. It really was wonderful that many of these individual vendors were able to offer us so much more in terms of guidance and suggestions along the way.
As we got closer to the wedding we stayed in conversation with all of our vendors. Our primary communication was with Shannon and Steve since they were the two that really impacted the success of our elopement and the planning we put into it. On May 19th, 2016 it was time for our seven family members in addition to Michael and me to fly out to our wedding. When we arrived the homeowner of our vacation rental was there to meet us and guide us through everything that was available to us in the area and with our rental. The home was everything and more; just absolutely perfect.
The day of the wedding was just wonderful for us. Our ceremony was not until 7pm so the day of the wedding was a great time for us to enjoy together. The boys all decided to go ride ATVs for a few hours together while the women all went to pick up my bouquet as well as our cake. We had actually planned for Shannon to meet us at the house and we would have photos taken together as we were all getting ready, and then we would head to the ceremony and allow for more photos afterward. Shannon arrived at our house and it was great finally being able to meet her! She helped us all get ready and made sure we had everything we needed for the ceremony. When it was time to head to our ceremony location, Shannon carpooled with us and led the way. We met up with Steve Masefield our Officiant and we made the drive to our wonderful location. When we arrived we were speechless. The location was more than we could have ever imagined and it was all a result of simple communication with our photographer.
After the ceremony, Michael and I were able to explore the area on our own with Shannon and have more photos taken prior to heading back to the house for our reception. As we were walking through Lee Valley Michael and I were talking to each other about how happy we were. We really could not have had a better wedding and everything came together beautifully; it was exactly what we had hoped for.” -Heather
Photographer: Sweetly Photography
Officiant: Steve Masefield