Zion National Park, Utah

the hearnes » adventure elopement photographers


erin + marshall’s sunrise elopement ceremony overlooking zion national park

Let me start by taking a second to brag about one of the most rad and down to earth couples we've ever gotten to work with. This couples qualities are so good to have in everyday life, but they made a 3:00 am start to their elopement in Zion feel like a joy. Erin and Marshall are an uplifting, positive, and encouraging couple - but they also are one of my favorite stories when it comes to how they met and why they chose an adventure wedding. They chose Zion and a certain overlook not merely for the beauty of the location, but because that's where they met two years before. Marshall is outgoing which he used to strike up a conversation with Erin (his killer smile probably didn't hurt) as they both summited at the same overlook we were about to hike up to. That day, they exchanged numbers with the plan to stay in touch, not knowing that two years later they'd be exchanging vows in the same spot, with the plan to spend forever together.

There's so much beauty here in Utah, but this part in Southern Utah brings about different opportunities than we might see in Moab or Monument Valley. The vertical gain on many of the hikes can be pretty intimidating (again, let me just point out how positive and awesome this couple was... I swear, if beautiful souls caused people to shine, Erin and Marshall would be two of the brightest folks I've personally met). Not only were Erin and Marshall down for an early start, meeting at their hotel at 3:00 am, but they were also entirely psyched about repeating the hike that brought them together. To get there with the best light meant being at the trailhead at 4:30 in the morning. Taking the shuttle (which is actually really helpful in decreasing the amount of traffic on roads and trails) was one reason for the earlier start since you can't access the trailhead by car, but the other was far more attractive. Zion, one of America's greatest gathering of canyons, has some of the world's busiest hikes. The overlook where Marshall and Erin met is no exception to the reputation of steep hikes Zion offers so, although most trails in Zion are well traveled, this one (although well trafficked) retains a feeling of intimacy - especially during the twilight hours. Leaving so early meant being the first on the trail and having their overlook all to ourselves.  This type of plan is actually ideal for having an adventure wedding in a National Park.

Even with a full crew (introducing Anje, Anna, and Ted... I could go on about how amazing these friends were) we were all on time to start the hike at 4:30 am! We turned on our headlamps and took to the trail with a plan to be at the overlook early so Anje and Anna could help get Erin ready. The day was really a team effort with everyone helping by carrying the bouquet, being sherpas for the mini bridal suite amenities, staying positive in the 20-degree weather, making sure timing worked, and also making sure to enjoy the moment - appreciating little things like hiking under the stars, sharing hand warmers, and seeing your breath float through the light of your headlamp on the way to this magical wedding. I was thinking along the hike how much I love the end product in the photos and capturing little moments along the way, but also how the photos are truly secondary as we can't capture moments without creating memories first. Four miles of hiking, 20-degrees, a stellar story to have for the rest of your life - this is what keeps me so stoked about this job.

When we arrived at Erin and Marshall's overlook, there was about an hour of darkness left before the sun peaked up over the canyon walls. Callen took some astro shots as we all ate some of Erin's homemade granola bars before Anje (who had been there the day Marshall asked for Erin's number) touched up hair and makeup. Anje had no previous experience in makeup or hair for weddings which surprised me to learn after seeing how beautiful it turned out! Anna and Anje helped Erin into her dress (a seriously beautiful work of art) and put on some finishing touches while Marshall waited for the first look. As Erin walked over to Marshall, she was excited and braving the cold, but it was worth it as Marshall was taken aback seeing her in her dress for the first time (he, of course, had hand warmers and bear hugs waiting for her). I love how he took her in, checking out all the details of her dress from all the angles.

We took a few portraits and had a little time to cozy up and get warm before the sun rose. Then it happened; the stars gave way to twilight, the dark navy sky turned a warm blue fading slowly to a white horizon, the sun announcing a new day. Their friend Ted was the officiant, and his words came with the first beams of light washing over the red cliffs in the distance. All this together made a perfect ceremony for them – sincere, funny, emotional, and sweet. I'm a sucker for personal touches, so my favorite part was when Erin and Marshall exchanged and read their handwritten vows, to which Marshall held back (or at least tried to) the world's happiest tears. With the golden air washing over our skin, warming us up like a blanket of light, Marshall and Erin were pronounced and introduced for the very first time as husband and wife.

Everyone was smiling the way you do when you're trying to take in love and beauty and old (and for us, new) friendships at the same time. Adventure elopements are full of moments which become memories we'll all keep and tell our friends back home, our families, and to future kids and grandkids who aren't even born yet. I think these moments change us a bit, always making us and the world better. Personally, I was feeling this while shooting and had to focus more than once on keeping it together as to keep my eyes dry enough to see through my viewfinder sans blurriness.

The light was uniquely that belonging to Zion, hazy and thin, coming fast over the edge of the canyon, going from sunrise to mid-morning uniquely fast. A steady breeze came and lifted Erin's dress from her hand to float perfectly over the edge of the cliff. Sometimes I think moments like this are what adventure elopement photographers dream of, but then I realize these moments are just what everyone dreams of. Then their three friends came over for a few portraits, and we all took some time to soak in the views before heading down on the hike.

On the hike down there were plenty of great views which made for a few epic shots we couldn't see in the dark before, but Marshall and Erin in their wedding clothes were the real highlight. Marshall said he felt like he had a magic wand with his wedding clothes because he could make everyone smile, make their day by saying hello and spreading the contagious happiness. This kind of epitomized their whole day – a joy completely new from a place they'd known before. They reflected on having met here and now, how special it was to have shared their vows and gotten married here.

Erin and Marshall's wedding served as a reminder to why we enjoy these adventures. Their take on the perfect love story resonated with us and put new light into an area we've known was amazing for a long time. I'm so grateful for everything this couple means to us, for what this hike and these friends showed us. All this is why Callen and I are quickly falling in love with Zion (have you noticed the recent change to the background on thehearnes.com ?) and why we're going to focus on shooting more adventure weddings here in the years to come. I think their love for each other and this spot really did spread to me a little bit, and I feel so fortunate for that. More than anything, I'm just stoked I got to share in their day, and love the thought of them cuddled up on their porch, hiking some trail, or returning to there for years to come – having a perfect day, just like this one, because they're having it together.

Elopement Location: Zion National Park, Utah

Photographers: The Hearnes Adventure Photography

Bride’s Dress: Flora Bride via En Blanc LA

Bride’s Hair + Make Up: Her friend Anje

Bride’s Bouquet: By Bloomers, St. George, Utah


The Hearnes Adventure Photography is run by Abbi and Callen Hearne, a husband & wife wedding photography team with an emphasis on adventure. They live on the road as full-time nomads, allowing them to serve a large portion of the western US. You can typically find them in Moab, Utah or Yosemite National Park, California, with side-quests to Patagonia and Alaska. They believe love is the greatest adventure and strive to create photos that are epic, romantic, true, and timeless.

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