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Eloping in the Land of Enchantment

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Running away and getting married in secret used to be the story only of lovers whose parents objected to the union. And while that traditional definition of eloping is still common, it has broadened. Nowadays, many couples, especially millennials, view eloping as starting their marriage with an adventure and saying their “I dos” in an unconventional location, perhaps with only a few family or close friends present.

As the price tag of what should be the one of the most special days of your life – your wedding day – increases, more and more couples are looking for alternate ways to tie the knot. As a millennial on a budget, who is looking to eventually get hitched, the idea of spontaneously eloping appeals to me and my wallet.

Some quick googling reveals that to get a marriage license in New Mexico, all a couple needs is $25 in cash and government-issued forms of identification, with each person’s name and date of birth. The couple then has 90 days to be married by someone lawfully authorized to perform the ceremony.

One Santa Fe resident, Lauren Cooke, decided to do just that. If I wasn’t convinced about eloping before, I was sold on it after talking with Lauren. Total cost of her wedding: $25. “When you go to the county clerk’s office, they hang this little sign that says, ‘Marriage in progress,’” says Cooke. She jokingly points out that while a wedding happens on one day, a marriage lasts much longer.

While a trip to the county clerk’s office for a marriage license and a civil ceremony is one option, there are many others. In fact, another Google search turned up popular, all-inclusive, New Mexico-based elopement packages offered by Desert Harbor.

New Mexico has no shortage of jaw-dropping landscapes, so what makes Desert Harbor special? That’s easy: this retreat space is completely off the grid and couples get the entire place to themselves. Located between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, just off of the Turquoise Trail, Desert Harbor is a secluded 34-acre paradise. It boasts endless starry skies, unforgettable sunsets and breathtaking views. Couples can have a picturesque ceremony and a honeymoon without a hefty price tag. Environmentally conscious couples will be pleased that it is also solar powered. Elopement and honeymoon packages include everything from wedding design and coordination to lodging, meals — even a wedding cake and an officiant. Prices range from $2,500 to $5,000 for a two- or three-day package (that does not include a photographer, however). Adventurous, physically fit couples can opt for the Deep Space Desert Safari package, which includes “a full day and overnight outfitted glamping experience.” (“Glamping” is short for “glamorous camping,” luxurious camping with all the amenities.) Desert Harbor describes itself as “creating bespoke elopement experiences for couples who value authenticity, privacy and beauty.” More information is available at desertharborretreat.com.

If you’ve always imagined being surrounded by your family and closest friends at your wedding, don’t rule out a nontraditional wedding that has the excitement of eloping. Consider creating the feeling of a destination wedding by running away to a unique and beautiful corner of the world: New Mexico, of course! It is possible to elope and share your special day with the most important people in your life. Or, you and your special someone can have an intimate, private ceremony, followed by a post-wedding party for family and friends. Whether you have your sights set on a specific destination or are unsure which venue would serve your needs best, consider seeking expert help.

Santa Fe’s Jessie Baca is a professional wedding planner and coordinator who has been orchestrating weddings in New Mexico for more than ten years. Recently she expanded her business to include elopements. Baca says couples want to bring their guests to a place like Santa Fe, where adventure is at their fingertips. Baca says that eighty-five percent of her clients are from out of state: mostly California, New York and D.C., with a handful from Salt Lake City. She points out that destination weddings are popular with couples of all ages, but that couples in their 30s and 40s, who typically pay for their wedding themselves, want local activities their guests can enjoy. That availability is part of Santa Fe’s appeal as a perfect location for destination elopements and weddings.

Along with churches and other places of worship, the most popular venues for weddings are hotels and resorts. And while those are perfect for some, other couples prefer to go off the beaten path and into nature. Fortunately, Santa Fe is home to both gorgeous hotels and breathtaking landscapes, another reason it can be the ideal destination for a wedding or elopement, big or small.

From one side of the state to the other, New Mexico has no shortage of magical places for those wishing to elope. “But it’s more than just the place that you’re eloping to,” says Baca. “There is so much that goes on behind the scenes, such as the decorations, the meal and day-of coordination. Someone has to set up and clean up.” She continues, “Most of the time, the bride has a team of vendors making the magic happen behind the curtains. I think that’s the key. Creating a magical elopement that is effortless for the couple still requires a team of vendors to do the work, even if the guest count is only two people.”

Visions of an effortless elopement filled my head: the sun setting behind the mountains on the horizon as I say “I do” to the love of my life. Then I learned that White Sands National Monument can turn such a dream into reality. Situated in the northern Chihuahua Desert in New Mexico, White Sands is a four-hour drive south from Santa Fe — and completely worth it to see the rare white-gypsum sand dunes. In the winter, the temperature is mild and comfortable for sand sledding. In the spring, the rolling sand hills are blooming with flowers. In the fall, the days are long and the sunsets dramatic. In short, eloping in White Sands could be the dream of a lifetime. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/weddings.htm.

Another secluded option is Ghost Ranch. Made famous by Georgia O’Keeffe, who owned a second home on the property, Ghost Ranch is a sacred place framed by red and yellow cliffs, under a limitless blue sky. O’Keeffe’s love of the land inspired many of her famous paintings. Today, the venue is used for educational retreats, tours and horseback rides, and is cherished for the spectacular views. Exploring Ghost Ranch is nothing short of a captivating experience. The stunning scenery and natural light would no doubt contribute to magnificent wedding photos. For more information, visit www.ghostranch.org/visit/group-meetings-gatherings/weddings.

A historic organic lavender farm and inn, Albuquerque’s Los Poblanos is a breathtaking destination for a wedding or elopement, a truly one-of-a-kind wedding venue. Some guests love the intimate setting it provides. Others gush about the delicious, sustainably sourced organic food. Personally, I’m enthralled by the smell of lavender wafting through the 25 acres of lush farmland. Los Poblanos has all inclusive wedding packages, and can comfortably handle weddings of all sizes, including elopements.

Because Los Poblanos is easy to get to, it’s an appealing choice for a wedding or elopement. It offers several options year round. The first is an intimate outdoor ceremony in the Rose Greely Garden, a space that was designed almost a hundred years ago. Although it’s not usually offered for weddings, you could be one of the fortunate few to enjoy this enchanting setting for your ceremony. Then you and your new spouse can retire to a spacious honeymoon suite.

Those who prefer an indoor ceremony, or would like a backup in case of bad weather, should consider the Ventana room. Lined with floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto a patio, this lovely space holds up to 40 people, yet is still cozy enough for a party of ten or fewer. Enjoy a post-ceremony dinner on the Ventana patio, with its serene lotus pond and spectacular Sandia Mountain views.

A third option is the Hacienda, which is adjacent to the Rose Greely Garden. Because this Spanish courtyard features beautifully carved doors, a kiva fireplace and a Moorish fountain, it offers endless beautiful, unusual backdrops for wedding photos. Or try a combination: have a private ceremony in the Rose Greely Garden, followed by a reception in this Hacienda courtyard, which accommodates up to 60 guests, or choose one of the indoor reception spaces that accommodate up to 120 people.

Want to go even bigger? Several of Los Poblanos’ outdoor spaces can accommodate up to 250 guests. Whether the wedding event is small and exclusive or is a party for 200, Los Poblanos is committed to working with couples and their wedding or elopement coordinator. For more information, visit https://lospoblanos.com/special-events/weddings.

If your desire is to stay in The City Different, you’ll find that Santa Fe Botanical Gardens is another unique elopement and wedding venue. Bonus: no decorations or flowers are necessary – as long as you plan a spring ceremony while the flowers are in bloom. Savor the feeling of being the only two people in the world when you rent all or a portion of the garden for your big day, which can include either an intimate post-ceremony meal or a party for you and your guests. You can explore the garden while a photographer documents your first moments of married life, or you can hit the town, enjoying some of Santa Fe’s many delights. Book an Airbnb and make dinner reservations at The Compound or another of the city’s wonderful restaurants. The possibilities are endless.

It’s no surprise that the Land of Enchantment is such a popular destination for weddings and elopements. The landscape and majestic views are unforgettable. The myriad wedding venues here, whether conventional or out of the ordinary, are imbued with Southwest charm. Perhaps the old English rhyme should be updated to “Something borrowed, something blue, something old, something New (Mexico)”!

By Leah Pinkus

Leah Pinkus is the production manager for The Essential Guide, a yoga teacher and an aspiring writer. Visit her website, roamingandrecording.com, to follow her adventures and one day, perhaps, her elopement experience.

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Leah Pinkus