colorado mountain wedding on offbeat bride alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)
Photos by Britt Nielsen Photography

The Offbeat Bride: Sunny, teacher and writer

Her offbeat partner: G, software engineer

Date and location of wedding: Rocky Mountain National Park and the YMCA of the Rockies, Estes Park, CO — June 7, 2013

Our offbeat wedding at a glance: We took our first walk together in Estes Park, CO, and have hiked hundreds of miles together since. We wanted to share the beauty that sustains us with our wedding guests. Our guests traveled from three continents and seven U.S. states, and it was the first time G's Chilean family and my Minnesotan family met. We prioritized meaningful social interactions, relaxed fun in the mountains, and fabulous food.


Our budget: $5000 for three days and four meals. My family made homemade smoked pulled pork, cake, cheesecake, sweets, empanadas, and enchiladas. They also made invitations, much of the décor, and served as kitchen staff throughout the weekend. They made my favorite childhood sweets, including the cream cheese mints that were present at every big event where I grew up in rural Minnesota, as well as G's favorite childhood food from Chile, empanadas de pino. We were humbled by their generosity!


I did most remaining cooking in advance (including gluten-, dairy-, meat- and olive-free options). Saturday brunch and the evening picnic were done on-site, with additional volunteers from G's family.

Britt Nielsen provided photography in return for travel, lodging, and a little website development help. Another friend, our nieces, and a flower girl transformed grocery store flowers into bouquets. I collected vintage glass (for candles) and plates from thrift shops and eBay. In lieu of an officiant's fee, we are making monthly donations to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a project that provides legal services to low-income transgender people and transgender people of color.


Tell us about the ceremony:
We decided to have an officiant even though we didn't need one in Colorado. It proved a lovely experience. Meeting with her about the ceremony was a great way to clarify and articulate our values and goals. She made it a sweet, funny, and meaningful experience, and kept us calm!



Because the only permitted seating was picnic tables, we ended up with an unintentional ceremony in the round. At the end of the ceremony, we formed a complete circle. Our officiant asked people to either whisper their blessing for us or speak out loud. To my surprise, many very reserved guests spoke. We could also look around the entire circle and see every one of our guests!




We included a Chilean poem that was one of our favorites long before we even met. I translated it with some help from G since I didn't like any of the existing English translations:

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, topaz,
Or a piercing arrow of carnations spreading fire
I love you as certain unfathomable things are loved
Secretly, between shadow and soul.
I love you like a plant that does not flower but carries within it, hidden, the light of those flowers
And thanks to your love lives unfathomably in my body
The bracing smell rising from the earth.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly, without difficulty or pride,
In this way I love you, because I don't know to love in any other way,
Than in this form, in which I am not, nor are you,
So close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
So close that you close your eyes as I grow sleepy.
– Sonnet 17, Pablo Neruda


Our biggest challenge:
G's social anxiety was a challenge. We limited the guest list to around 55, and built in restorative alone time throughout the weekend, including private vows between the ceremony and reception. We dramatically limited the number of posed photos, which can sometimes add a lot of stress to a very packed day. Instead we prioritized being fully present in every moment.


A self-catered weekend has a lot of moving parts. During planning, I had to finish a book and several articles, and we moved TWICE, once just three weeks before the wedding.

I used electronic planning tools to make sure we kept stress for our helpers to a minimum. I had a very detailed spreadsheet shared among all helpers with Dropbox. I imported the Offbeat Bride checklist into my Google calendar, which syncs among all my devices and to G's calendar. Pinterest and Evernote collected ideas for me and my helpers.


My favorite moment:
Walking the 1/4 mile to the ceremony, I heard thunder and turned my face to the sky to feel the raindrops. I'd forgotten my umbrella, and the wind was whipping my hair around my face. It was such a powerful and emotional moment. G was on one arm, my mom on the other, we were walking toward our family and friends, knowing that many more were sending their love from afar. As we walked the final steps towards our officiant, the skies opened to a bright sun that remained for the rest of the weekend.


Our photographer led us on a mini-hike to a gorgeous location she scouted out, where we could share our private vows with a sweeping view of the continental divide. I really recommend a private moment to just be together and process.


At the reception, while our guests were playing MINGLO, I looked around the room at everybody laughing and eating and drinking and just being happy, and it was amazing.



What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding?
I learned to just cut anything that became too stressful, and sticking to the budget on EVERYTHING was important. Couldn't find the time to make my favorite vegan lasagna? A Caribbean-inspired curry in the slow cooker would do just fine. Absolutely couldn't work in appointments for a custom dress? Department store dress it was. Choose the priorities that work for you, and eliminate everything else.


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Comments on An international Colorado mountain wedding weekend

    • Aww, thanks! It’s a huge bonus for tiny budgets: no need for decor when you live so close to that kind of beauty.

  1. The whole “self-wedding” thing with no officiant needed is so fascinating to me… it’s Colorado and Pennsylvania that allow that? Does anyone know if other US states do? What about internationally? Totally an interesting concept.

    • The last time I researched this, it was just Colorado and Pennsylvania. I think it’s for two entirely different reasons, too: Pennsylvania’s law seems to be inspired by Quaker traditions, while I think Colorado’s is a result of a strong libertarian sentiment. Oh, and I think Wisconsin allows some form of this as well.

  2. Beautiful! You would never know those are grocery store flowers!


    • We had a great flower-arranging team 🙂 It was also easier to order the wacky flowers I wanted from the grocery store than a florist. (Unfortunately it was a few weeks too early to buy directly from local farms)

  3. Oh My Goodness, Sunny! What a beautiful and meaningful experience. I got teary-eyed just reading about your ability to stay in the moment. Congratulations and my best to you!

  4. OMG Sunny! I love all of this so much! You both look so happy and beautiful. Congrats! 🙂

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