Our Crazy Sweet Desert Wedding


Find Your Perfect Venue and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Our first venue declined to host our wedding six months after assuring us we didn’t need a contract, but Tabor and I didn’t start panicking until our second venue caught fire and burned down. Six months out and we had no idea where we’d seat the hundred people we expected to watch us exchange vows.

It had come to this: us frantically pointing the car in various directions and hoping for divine inspiration. We had gotten as far east as you can get in Tucson—where Speedway dead ends at the foot of the Rincon Mountains—and were turning the car around in dejection when Linda called and suggested we come check out her place.

Loved ones and saguaros witness our ceremony as the moon rises over the Tucson Mountains

Loved ones and saguaros witness our ceremony as the moon rises over the Tucson Mountains (Image: VioletPhotography)

You’ll Know It When You See It

Her place, the exclusive Hacienda Linda bed and breakfast, would be located about as far west as you could go and still consider yourself in the Tucson area, way out in the desert, past the Tucson Mountains, past the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, just on the far side of Saguaro National Park.

Tabor and I agreed that the one thing our wedding required was saguaros, the iconic, long-armed cactus native to the Sonoran Desert. This stretch of desert had them in spades, along with chollas, ocotillos, prickly pears, barrel cactus, and mesquite trees: the pure, true desert of Wild West mystique.

We bumped along a mile of unpaved road, kicking up rocks and dust at fifteen miles an hour, then turned right at the mature saguaro in the middle of the road onto another, even more primitive road. “I don’t think this is going to work,” Tabor sighed. It was just too difficult to reach.

Then we turned onto the property. It shone in the afternoon light, exuding southwestern charm with its brilliant sunset palette exterior and whimsical touches: a deer kachina, a metal arch supporting sweet-smelling jasmine, colored glass embedded into surprising surfaces. Ancient wooden furniture adorned the porch, beneath metal lanterns and wrought iron decorations. A xeriscaped garden spread out around a tinkling stone fountain and a majestic saguaro. In every direction, the desert rolled away with spiny splendor, free and unhindered in its awesome beauty.

“We’ll make it work,” we decided. Tabor, who had once owned a limousine company, and his brother, a former long haul trucker, could ferry guests in rented vans. Linda and her husband Dan would handle the party rentals. They would park cars. They would keep everything running smoothly.

Seriously, You’re Just as Married without Personalized Napkins

In the next six months, Dan and Linda relandscaped the property to better accommodate our wedding, moving cactus and wildflowers to shape the venue to our affair, and had the telephone company remove old poles and lines to improve our view. (We did not ask them to do this!)

Some decisions were simple. My best friend from high school was a professional photographer, and I had noted her disappointment when

Loved ones and saguaros witness our ceremony as the moon rises over the Tucson Mountains

other friends didn’t hire her for their weddings, thinking that she would rather just enjoy the party. I knew Violet would rather shoot the wedding.

We didn’t sweat the officiant, either. Another close friend was more than happy to be recruited. A professional writer, Jack collaborated with us to create a personalized ceremony, and refused to accept any fee.

My best Tucson friend would do my makeup. My sister would help me with my hair. My best grad school friend would keep things organized.

The wedding band: little brother on keyboard, little sister on violin, neighbor on vocals.

The wedding band: little brother on keyboard, little sister on violin, neighbor on vocals. (Image: VioletPhotography)

A live band was out of the question on our budget, and with thousands of songs in my iTunes library, I couldn’t justify paying someone to press “play.” I spent about twenty-five dollars to acquire a few meaningful songs absent from my collection and built eight custom playlists. My sister’s boyfriend agreed to press “play” when I was otherwise occupied. And we ended up with a live band anyway. My sister and brother, both accomplished musicians, insisted on performing. A college friend with an amazing voice was persuaded to sing vocals.

Printing was taken care of! At the time, I was the Lead Writer

Our custom invitation from TicketPrinting.com

for Eventgroove, and the CEO offered to cover it all as his wedding present. Megan Buck, the Lead Designer, put together a lovely concept for us, and we ordered save-the-date cards, invitations, RSVP cards and envelopes, maps to the venue, and out-of-town cards with ease.

We spent hours searching for the caterer that represented us: fresh, local, healthy. Stuck in traffic one day, I turned to see a van from an upscale market, which proclaimed that AJ’s also catered. Within a few visits, the excellent Chef Wendy had our menu planned. AJ’s also baked our dream cake, a deconstructed confection covered with fresh fruit.

Keep Calm and Then Keep Calm Again (and Get a Contract)

There were, of course, bumps. Chef Wendy and Linda needed help coordinating. I fretted about the dress, the shoes, the jewelry, and even the underwear. Tabor insisted on my help in shopping for a tuxedo. And, naturally, we needed matching outfits for his kids. And just a few flowers: my bouquet, corsages and boutonnières for our parents and siblings, halos for me and the flower girl. Flowers were acquired from Roses and More, the florist on the corner; tuxedos from A Tailor Tuxedo and Bridal, owned by one of Tabor’s old choir buddies; rings from Carlos Diaz, the same jeweler who crafted my custom engagement ring.

We chose a rehearsal dinner venue and a Sunday brunch location convenient to out-of-town guests. We addressed envelopes and enlisted the kids to stuff them. We dealt with the few religious elements we did want to incorporate into the ceremony: a chuppah and a ketubah. The latter we ordered from thisisnotaketubah.com. The former, Tabor constructed himself from poles, hooks, and my dad’s old tallis, cleverly selecting poles that could later be cut down and mounted in the closets to hang clothes.

Gifts were delivered. Friends and family began to descend from all over the country. We laughed and smiled, even when things went wrong. When my college friend tearfully revealed at the last minute that she could not afford to travel to Arizona, my next door neighbor stepped in to sing. Although we had specified our needs to the rehearsal dinner venue, we arrived to find that the space we had rented for the night full of diners. This was another venue that had insisted we didn’t need a contract, that they did business on a handshake, that everything would be to our specification. With the best possible humor, we convinced them to stop seating strangers in the middle of our party, and celebrated around the perplexed extra guests. Although I was making place cards the night before the ceremony, I had settled into a state of ultimate calm.

The Important Thing

“You are the least freaked out bride I have ever seen,” my photographer told me on the drive over the mountains. Although part of me worried about our choice of venue—how difficult it was to reach! How horrible we would feel if someone had a car accident on this steep mountain pass—most of me felt that Tabor and I were coming together exactly as we were meant to.

Now, this is a cake! Alternating chocolate and vanilla layers, filled with pastry cream and decorated with strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries.

Now, this is a cake! Alternating chocolate and vanilla layers, filled with pastry cream and decorated with strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. (Image: VioletPhotography

Things went wrong, but they couldn’t ruin my wedding. The place cards blew away and had to be held down with rocks. The cake couldn’t be displayed because the fruit kept falling off. I missed my music cue and left my darling husband standing at the altar long enough to worry. Tabor’s ring had somehow been ordered two sizes too small.

But when we look back, what we remember is how perfect our wedding was. How our guests were treated to a majestic view of the moon rising over the Tucson Mountains while birds flew across the desert. How the penstemon crowned the garden, and sun fell softly through the cactus ribs. How we clutched each other tightly throughout our ceremony, and how we danced in each others’ arms while our friends and family looked on.

Our enchanted garden party reception

Our enchanted garden party reception (Image: VioletPhotography)

We never chose colors, or agonized over party favors, or centerpieces. Indeed, our centerpieces were thrift store vases filled with LED lights, and our guests left empty-handed (but with full stomachs). We didn’t blow enough money to buy a house or try to dazzle our guests with wealth we didn’t have. Instead, we put all our effort into creating a meaningful ceremony, followed by a tasty and healthy buffet and an enchanted garden party for the people we loved. It was the perfect manifestation of our love, and the right foundation for our lives together, and we created it ourselves, with love.

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