Oof, you guys. This is a tough post to write up, just because I already know it’ll be really hard to encapsulate this trip in words! I’ve been putting off writing the text for this Grand Canyon adventure wedding, because I am so attached to these images and these beautiful people that it’s hard to describe and I wanted to make sure I did it justice (yay enneagram type 4 issues, am I right?). I’ll also be posting all our personal photos & hiking adventures from this trip in a separate post, so look out for that.
We first met Kimi and Derek on the eve of their backpacking trip around Mt Rainier to celebrate their engagement. They reached out maybe a few weeks before their trip to inquire about a session. When we met them, we were immediately comfortable. They’re super fun, adventurous, deeply caring, and literally down for anything. Climbing over rocks? Backpacking? Running barefoot over snow? Wearing a ball gown into the back country? Drinking champagne out of their camping mugs? Check, check, and check. We felt like old friends by the end of the night, and they loved hanging out with us for their photos so much that they asked if we’d be willing to come out to the Grand Canyon to document the end of their backpacking trip honeymoon through the canyon. They were having a traditional wedding at home in Tennessee, but they also wanted some way to incorporate their love of adventure into their celebration. They thought an adventure wedding session with us would be an awesome way to cap off their honeymoon and start their married life together! (You can imagine my super emphatic HELL YEAH to that email).
The plan was that we were to meet up with them right after Thanksgiving as they were returning from their backpacking trip across the canyon, and do an early morning sunrise shoot at the canyon before they headed home to Tennessee later that day. So the day came, Devon and I flew into Las Vegas, super stoked, road tripped on over to the South Rim, and rolled up to our hotel room before meeting up with Kimi & Derek for some dinner at the lodge. It was already dark when we arrived, and the weather reports were predicting some crazy weather. Like, the most severe winter storm they’d had in years! But I took a deep breath, and reminded myself that we were gonna be fine. After all, we had a long list of back up locations that we could head to if the weather was truly as nuts as it was forecasted to be.
So we went to bed, and overnight the storm hit. And boy, did it HIT. The entire canyon area and most of Flagstaff got over 2 feet of snow! Parts of the North Rim of the canyon got up to 5ft of snow, which is truly nuts. The power went down all across the area and throughout the park (thank goodness we had our warm winter gear to make those chilly nights in our hotel room bearable). In the morning, when we awoke to a cold hotel room and power outages throughout the entire South Rim (which, for those of you who have yet to visit: the Grand Canyon Village is the size of a town. It has its own school, grocery store, post office, hotels, buses, and there was no power anywhere there or in the neighboring towns either!) We learned from some friendly park employees that all of the major highways closed, and there was no hope of getting out of the area until they re-opened. Because South Rim is pretty isolated by road, we realized we were totally stranded. Since all roads in and out of the park were totally shut down, so there was no chance of heading someplace else with less crazy weather, or of Kimi & Derek catching their original flight home.
Luckily, shooting in deep snow & crazy weather is something we deal with pretty regularly thanks to our time in Spokane and the PNW, so we were amongst the few folks in the park who were pretty comfortable navigating in blizzard like conditions. We had all our gear, we knew how to keep ourselves safe, and we decided to try and shoot anyway! Kimi and Derek were down for anything, and we decided that blizzard or no blizzard, we’d give it the old college try.
That did not *exactly* work out. We were outside for maybe twenty minutes, with a few minutes of deceptively calm weather where we could see the snow-blanketed canyon before the insane winds picked up and we could barely see a foot in front of our faces, much less try and direct a couple safely. With the wild chill and driving snow, it was probably sub-zero temps. Everyone in the park besides us was huddling in the various lodges and warming centers. After a few minutes of trying to decide whether the weather was worth fighting, we decided to cut things short. It would have been too nuts to have folks standing out in that weather with just their wedding clothes for warmth, and I was pretty worried about them getting way too cold. Besides, at this point, canyon was completely invisible from the blowing snow anyway. So we ducked back inside to wait out the storm with everyone else who had the (mis)fortune of staying at the Grand Canyon for the holiday weekend! With no power, fireplaces built over a hundred years ago were being used to heat the lodges for the first time in a long while, I imagine.
After calling it quits on shooting, the canyon during the storm was actually a super cool experience, despite the occasional stress. From all the park employees we spoke to, they all said that this was one of the most intense storms they’d ever seen, and that most people never saw the canyon with this much snow in a lifetime, so it definitely made for some unique memories and experiences! As an extra special memory, we happened to visit the canyon during its 100 year anniversary of becoming a national park.
Thankfully, Kimi and Derek were able to move their flights out another day and extend their honeymoon to wait for the roads out of the park and the highways around Flagstaff to reopen. Since we now had more time on our hands and the storm was supposed to break in the next 24 hours, we decided to try shooting their adventure wedding session again the next day, when the weather was supposed to be a little less crazy. After a cold night of eating pb & j in the dark in our freezing hotel room and laughing our asses off about the craziness of it all, we awoke to blue skies!! The worst of the weather was over and the sun had broken out!
So Devon and I decided to hit some of the trails to see which ones were most passable in the deep snow. The hustle and bustle of the second busiest National Park was completely absent, and we got to experience trails and overlooks in total solitude that are normally bustling with hundreds of people. Because most people visiting/stuck in the park weren’t used to this level of cold/snow (even after the storm blew through, we were dealing with temps in the low teens!), we had almost everywhere to ourselves. We hiked around and only saw one other guy, who was from Norway, so we high-fived and exchanged stories about our crazy winters in the north. He’d visited the canyon a ton and said that this was his favorite visit, because he could finally experience the place in almost total solitude.
So, after a good day of scouting, we met up with Kimi & Derek again in the evening to try our Grand Canyon adventure wedding shoot again! We hiked out to a scenic overlook that’s normally reached by shuttle bus, and they braved the cold winds and chilly temperatures for an unbelievably gorgeous sunset over the canyon. It’s so hard to put into words how beautiful the Grand Canyon is at sunset and sunrise. It is the closest thing to magic I think I’ve ever experienced. They had brought a lot of pieces and memories of their wedding in Tennessee along with them, so they read post cards written from all their friends and family, and recited wedding blessings to each other from their Lutheran tradition. We took a short break to warm our freezing hands, eat some more pb & j (it was how we survived on this trip, okay), and have a good old fashioned dance party on the edge of the canyon before heading back.
Although it was a pretty short adventure wedding session, due to the cold, we worked our asses off to make it happen. To date, it’s the craziest, hardest shoot we’d ever accomplished. We wouldn’t have wanted to try this Grand Canyon adventure wedding session with any other couple; Kimi and Derek were such champions about the entire experience. They were always excited, always willing to try something new (I found out later they’re both super nervous about heights?? But still let me guide them out onto a ledge over North America’s largest canyon?? In wedding clothes?? What MVPs, y’all.), and they are such wonderful, fun, trusting people. We definitely bonded over this crazy trip, and I’m so honored to call them friends. I have no idea how we’re gonna top this, but I cannot wait for all the crazy shenanigans we get up to in the future.