If you have never seen the sun set on the Salt Flats of Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park, then you have not fully lived your life quite yet. This place……is just absolutely unreal. To get real nerdy, I’ve always been interested in geology; funky looking rocks, crystal formations, and sand colored brilliantly by raw metals within the earth. Death Valley National Park holds all of this and so much more. Traveling into the park is like stepping into another world altogether and it is both awe inspiring and shocking. You drive deep down into the valley (282 feet below sea level) where you find yourself surrounded by rugged mountains (no literally like crazy sharp lava rocks, pink cacti - what?!, and massive alluvial fans caused by flash floods) and large expanses of desert that carries the feeling of absolute desolation. The whole park has an air of reverence for the unknown with much of its 3,000 miles explored only by the well prepared adventurers who are ready to go days on end into the backcountry of the hot desert with no services in sight. Ample amounts of water, sunscreen, spare tires if traveling onto the 4x4 backroads, and a solid set of survival skills are a must. Death Valley National Park is stunning but it is no joke! It also happens to be the largest National Park in the lower 48 and as I stated before, it is expansive. Another fun fact about Death Valley National Park is that it holds the lowest point in North America within its borders; Badwater Basin. This is where Carolyn and Brian chose to say their vows to one another on a warm (cool day for Death Valley) in February.
Carolyn and Brian met in College where they lived around the corner from one another in the same dorm building. They fell madly in love and dated for 8 years. At this point, all of their friends were asking when they were getting married. Little did they know that these two were secretly making plans to say their vows privately and would then celebrate with friends and family when they returned home. Carolyn found me on instagram and expressed her and Brian’s desire to elope in Death Valley (somewhere otherworldly - but for real it’s like Mars on earth) on their 9 year anniversary. We set all of our plans and over Christmas time we became aware that the National Parks were in the midst of a government shut down. We weren’t too worried as we were still a little over a month away from their elopement but as the date grew closer, the length of the government shut down grew longer. We were concerned that the park might be closed and started to consider other possible alternatives. My boyfriends dad who lives in Southern California, had heard that the park was still being staffed unlike other National Parks and decided to take an impromptu trip to Death Valley the week before Carolyn and Brian’s elopement. He was able to check and confirm for us that the park was open and still being staffed which was a huge blessing. Situations like this are something to consider when you choose to elope in one of America’s many National Parks - especially if the park isn’t close to home. These public spaces are stunningly beautiful but make sure to have a possible back up if there is a predicted government shut down, just in case! Going into the National Parks when they are shut down, especially if the parks gates remain open and aren’t staffed, can increase trash and cleanup when reopened (this trash also attracts wildlife which is harmful to them and causes more aggressive wildlife attacks), it increases the risk for vandalism and destruction of unique park features (like the Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree National Park during the shut down and those who ignored LNT principles by walking on fragile terrain and having their pups off leash within the park), and there are also few if any services for visitors who find themselves in trouble during their visit - think emergency situations that require medical attention, the condition of roads, and wild life encounters. Here’s a fantastic article to gain more information on protecting our beautiful parks during a shut down and encouraging others to do so as well.
That week the government shut down ended (heck to the yes!) and we all felt much better about the elopement location and all of the planning that had gone into it! I flew into Ontario, California, spent the night in SoCal, and headed out the next morning before sunrise on Highway 395 towards Death Valley National Park. Highway 395 is a little more desolate than taking Interstate 15 to Baker but it is a gorgeous drive! The airforce flies over this area and they must have been training that day as we got buzzed several times - the jets drop low, close(ish) to your car and the sound is so loud that is vibrates the metal on your vehicle. The sound is like a huge crack of thunder overhead! What’s crazy is that you can’t hardly hear these jets until they are on top of you and it almost makes you jump out of your seat before instantly searching the sky to watch the jet disappear out of view. I also caught sight of wild burros during the drive that blended well with all of the Joshua trees strewn along the side of the Highway.
When I arrived to Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park, I met up with Carolyn, Brian, and their amazing officiant, Melissa. We hiked out together on the long stretch of salt to the basin - about .5 of a mile to where Badwater basin opens up to perfectly white salt flats that look like snow. The salt flats create these crazy hexagonal honeycomb shapes that are sometimes up to 6 feet wide - such cool features! We found a spot away from other hikers to allow Carolyn and Brian to have a private ceremony where they could say their vows and exchange rings. Their elopement was so stunning! The sun was hanging low on the horizon and although the weather predicted for rain we ended up with soft hazy clouds that made the sunlight soft and dreamy over the salt flats. We were so lucky! Because the salt is white, a bright and sunny day has the potential (just like snow) to create really harsh lighting. The streaks of color in the mountains were illuminated against the salt and just like they had wanted, Carolyn and Brian eloped somewhere otherworldly.
We spent our time after their ceremony hiking across Badwater Basin, pretending to be salt bae (tell me a better time to do this - you can’t), playing hand slap, and taking portraits before popping champagne in the dark in the parking lot. One of my favorite pieces of Carolyn and Brian’s story is the lavender in all of their details. Brian’s father passed away when he was a little boy. His father always enjoyed plants and gardening. Their family had an indoor lavender plant that was accidentally pushed out of a window and consequently broke the pot it was in. This all happened around the time Brian’s father was sick and the plant was forgotten about in a landscaping bed. After his father passed away, that same lavender plant managed to root itself and grew back every year after. Brian had some dried lavender that his mom picked from that plant and Carolyn included a few sprigs of it into his boutonnière so that the memory of his dad could be included in their elopement. Yea, I see you through that computer screen wiping those tears. It’s okay, just let em flow. I hope you enjoyed a small snippet of our sunset adventure in Death Valley National Park and if you continue scrolling you’ll find a photo of Brian’s lavender boutonniere down below.