Marriage & the Mountains

The Work to Woo Couples to Northern Arizona to Tie the Knot

Northern AZ’s Mountain Living Magazine, January 2017

Written by Gail G. Collins

Sitting creekside with autumn leaves strewn like golden confetti around the newly minted bride and groom, it was easy to see what had drawn my nephew, Josh, and Megan to Los Abrigados in Sedona to be married. The Spanish-styled resort with picturesque grounds next to Tlaquepaque Crafts Village—a venue in its own right—created a short-hop destination wedding for the Phoenix pair. But they are among hundreds, who choose Northern Arizona each year. Wooed by stunning scenery, plus the drama of weather and fiery sunsets yielding transcendent photography, their celebrations go from memorable to magical. In addition, these locations hold the bonus of touring for guests and a ready-made honeymoon on site for the couple.

Though the lure of the mountains and Red Rock Country is a natural choice for Arizonans, brides and grooms come from all over the country. “Ninety percent of my couples are not from Northern Arizona,” said designer and event planner Kim Duncan of Kim Duncan Designs. “Often they have a family or personal connection, but many have fallen in love with the area, and they come from as far away as Washington D.C. or Manhattan.” And why not? The region is a world class destination.

Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte are monumental landscapes. Arizona Snowbowl affords forest and mountaintop heights. Between historic hotels and patio panoramas, couples can have their wedding cake and eat it, too, in stunning style.

A wedding’s foremost functions include planning and shopping. Combining the two is a great kick-start to the decision process. Northern Arizona hosts two show-stopping events each January to entice couples:  Sedona Bridal Show and Boot Camp and Northern Arizona Wedding Expo. Vendors, such as Classic Party Rentals and Events by Show Stoppers, sponsor Sedona’s largest and most fashionable wedding planning event where brides find nearly 20 venues vying for attention plus loads of vendors. Northern Arizona Wedding Expo is billed as a “one-stop shop” providing brides, “with all the resources at their fingertips.”

Venue and View

Duncan has observed a trend in outdoor ceremonies over the last few years and echoed the thoughts of vendors and couples alike, when she pointed out, “Mountain or canyon views can’t be beat. Sedona and the Grand Canyon have hundreds of elopements each year.” Venues with a view are certainly a draw. From intimate gatherings at Shoshone Point on the canyon’s south rim to formal settings—Flagstaff’s Forest Highlands, Foxboro Ranch, High Country Conference Center and Arizona Snowbowl, or Sedona’s L’Auberge, Agave and Creekside Inn—there is versatility and variety.

Venues coordinate bridal plans from a property perspective with a range of price points, creative suggestions, menu appeal, and reception oversight. Many have indoor-outdoor reservation options for flexibility with weather. Styles range from simple to sophisticated with a ready list of professional caterers and other vendors available.

Planners like Duncan can help with every facet of the wedding planning process, or she can simply tie up the loose ends for couples tying the knot. Bridal services vary to include:   a complete event package, partial planning or day-of organization. The vision begins months in advance with a complete package and handles budget management, logistics, vendor coordination, guest considerations, endless advice, and of course, décor and the untold details figure into it. Implementation of an overall scheme for partial planning can cover a number of tasks at the bride’s discretion, while day-of organization encompasses logistics on the ground plus set-up and clean-up.

The average couple spends $30,000 in an effort to pull off the perfect day, but bridal budgeting is wide-ranging and can run much higher. With wedding blogs and Pinterest, brides are spoiled for choice by ideas and images. Many brides enlist the help of friends and family to create table arrangements and decorator detail to keep it budget friendly. This requires dedication, and realistically, storage space. The days naturally grow short and frantic as the date nears. It’s vital to be realistic about executing the dream, so that stress does not replace joy on the wedding day. Planners can help balance that workload. They are also thrifters with an inventory of items from vintage furniture to arbors and glassware for staging an event or the keen knowledge of where to find it.

Melissa Schulte of Gettin’ Hitched hones a couple’s vision at the first meeting. The bulk of her brides are out-of-towners, and she was a bride herself recently in Pinetop.  Throughout Northern Arizona, she said, “Couples tend toward a monumental view of the peaks or red rocks. The selling point is the weather in all four seasons—it’s unpredictability.” Rain is considered good luck on a wedding day, and the heavens obliged for Schulte’s last four brides, who wanted a shower. Rain or softly falling snow adds a sacred element as well. A tent or ball room, depending on the venue, provides an insurance policy against nature’s extremes.

“Everyone wants a party in the woods,” Schulte said, “but they can easily go about it the wrong way. It’s important to be mindful and respectful of nature and our laws.” The contrast of elegance in a primitive setting sets the stage for memorable ceremonies. Rustic elegance or simply rustic has become the timeless choice for Northern Arizona.  Colors bear this out, integrating neutral shades with metallic sheens, such as rose gold or copper, and blushes.

“Keeping with a rustic theme is on par with Northern Arizona, keeping is simple and down to earth,” said owner Shawn of Foster-Wright Floral Designs. She noted an uptick in numbers as brides moved from thrifty craft strategies during the recession to booking professional arrangements. Fresh flowers require last minute preparation and can cause unexpected pressure for the do-it-yourself bride. Lately, some have sought local blooms, sourced from Whipstone Farms in Prescott, and many add textural aspects or woodsy items for interest.

Today, cutting the cake is akin to slashing through a masterpiece with the artistry available. From cupcakes to tiered cakes, brides gush over the sweet offerings. Choose custom designs from Jacqueline Rose Cakery, fondant or buttercream from Mozelle’s Downtown Bakery or celebrity fave’s Sedona Cake Couture and more. In all, flavor as well as flair is the order for the big day.

Big and Small

Though weddings can range from a cozy circle to a grand affair, Mitch Arnett of Mitch & Denise Wedding Photographers seeks out the charm and beauty of the area.  The Arnetts married in Sedona in 2011. They have shot a handful of church weddings, but he confessed, “Outdoor weddings are our niche.” His latest love is Galinas Tanks, west of Hart Prairie Road, for a vast view of the San Francisco Peaks set amongst the aspens.

Elopements, or small groups of 30 or so people, are on the rise. In generations past, an elopement meant running away to be married, but now, it means running away to somewhere the couple loves. Some sloshed river crossings for a clandestine ceremony along Oak Creek’s West Fork Trail. The time of day—morning and evening are best—and seasons bring shooting opportunities. “I wish for cloudy days or a bit of rain for drama in the skies and softer light,” Arnett said.

Each exchange of vows is as unique and personal as the couple. Imagine a luxe winter wedding at Snowbowl with guests seated on antique couches witnessing a tweed-garbed groom marry his organza bride as flakes fall on the refined, yet rural, space. Delight in modern grey and yellow contrasts of pinstripes and Converse, monograms and paper lanterns. Picture elegance in Sedona, as a New York couple pops the cork on Veuve-Clicquot with sabers on a patio backdrop of red rock. Blend barbecue and burlap, lace and linen, mercury glass and mason jars as a couple joins hands and hearts with their cowboy boots on in a field of flowers.

It’s all been done and more wonders await. Whether it is an elopement at Antelope Canyon or a blowout, complete with snowfall, at Flagstaff Nordic Center, the sealing of hopes and dreams for a bride and groom becomes an enchanted reality in Northern Arizona. NAMLM

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