An elopement in Moab, Utah provided a wedding site as big as all outdoors for Hailey Moore and Kristopher Hansen.
At 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 31, Hailey Moore and Dr. Kristopher Hansen stood in the dark at the Mesa Arch trailhead inside Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah. The half-mile to the arch was snow-covered and wound past prickly bushes, boulders, frozen puddles, cactuses and dead-but-still-standing trees.
Ms. Moore, 40, and Dr. Hansen, 38, were eloping, with no guests. They resembled strange birds that had flown far from their natural habitat. He wore blue suit pants, a gray vest, a perfectly pressed white shirt and carried a blue jacket on a hanger while she wore a lace wedding gown with a long train. The bride would later say the hike was like participating in a “trash the dress” photo shoot.
Their only companions were Jess and Austin Drawhorn, a married team of photographers who are based in Boulder, Colo., and specialize in what they call adventure elopements. The Drawhorns, who were dressed like backcountry hikers, wore headlamps and handed the bride and groom metal cleats to pull over their shoes. “The most important thing we can do today is not fall off a cliff,” Ms. Drawhorn said.
Dr. Hansen replied, “I’m terribly afraid of heights so you don’t have to worry.”
Culled from The New York Times, the couple, who told their families they were eloping, met Jan. 29, 2019 in the Java Hutt Cafe inside Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital in Roanoke, Va. Dr. Hansen, an oncologist and hematologist, was there for a medical conference. Ms. Moore, who was working as a hospice nurse at the time, was wearing scrubs and getting ready to meet the family of a patient.
They were standing next to each other in line. “I thought she was absolutely gorgeous,” he said. “I thought I did not stand a chance, but I made casual chitchat with the hopes of pulling something out of it. She’s a very strong woman and came across as such. That was both scary and attractive.”
He did manage to give her his business card but figured he’d never hear from her again. Then, that night, she texted him: “Hey, it’s Hailey.”
He remembers thinking: “This is the confident woman from the coffee shop.” He added, “I was doing cartwheels and trying to keep myself calm and collected.” Dr. Hansen comes across as thoughtful, approachable and funny, a formal physician who likes to wear extremely informal socks. Describing his sock collection, he said, “I have flamingoes. I’ve got piñata socks on right now. I have palm tree ones. It’s a talking point with work. It’s something to talk about in the room to break the ice, a less serious conversation.”
He and Ms. Moore soon met for dinner at Table 50, a restaurant in Roanoke where she lived at the time. (He lived in nearby Blacksburg.) They talked about medicine and their previous relationships. Both had been married before and divorced, neither happily.
“I was pretty hellbent on being single for life and I’m pretty sure Kris was, too,” Ms. Moore said. “When we met, right out of the gate, it was like, ‘Just so you know, I think you’re cool but there’s no way I’d ever get married again.’” She was especially guarded because unlike him, she has children from her previous marriage.
“We both had huge walls around ourselves, a force field if you will,” he said.
So, they proceeded gingerly. Soon after they met, she became a travel nurse, working temporarily at various hospitals around Virginia. “In the very beginning, he used to FaceTime me, and play the guitar for me when I was away on assignments,” she said. “That just melted me.”
He sometimes drove to visit her on his days off. “She was in Richmond, she was in Culpeper,” he said. “She would work the night shift and I would wait until she got off in the morning and then we’d go to the Waffle House.”
They’d talk for hours. “He’s humble,” she said. “I’ve been a nurse for 11 years and I always said I’d never date a doctor. They’re full of themselves, you know. I told him, ‘You’re totally different. You’re still nice and normal.’”
Two months after they met, they took a trip to Florida. “We had such a good time,” she said. “I was like, ‘We’re going to be really close buddies and travel.’ Then, you find yourself thinking about them all day. You can’t not think about them.”
In Florida, on a whim, they got matching tattoos of flying birds. “We got along so well, the other got through the force field much quicker than either of us anticipated,” he said.
Early on, they had serious discussions about the future while still promising each other: You can walk away whenever you want.
“A lot of conversations revolved around, ‘Listen, this is what I have planned for my future and if that’s not in line with your future, let’s be realistic and not inflict harm,’” he said.
It turned out their long-term goals and interests were aligned in many ways. Both want to travel as much as possible, partly because they are aware that good health is precious and temporary and even long lives are short. Both are readers. She has an eclectic collection of old hardcover books and she’s always on the hunt for more. “Goodwill is my hot spot,” she said. Crucially, Dr. Hansen told her he wants children and she said she was open to that possibility.
By summer, they were much less resistant to the idea of marriage. “Things changed for me,” she said. “It’s just a fluttering feeling you get in your chest when you’ve been looking at the same person for six months. It wasn’t really chest pain but a fluttering.”
In August, they went scuba diving in Aruba. He’s an experienced diver while she gets nervous underwater. “We did two amazing dives,” she said. “One was a shipwreck and one was a huge coral reef. Every time, I looked to my right or my left and there he was watching me. He never left my side once. It’s the same in life. I won’t notice he’s there but he’s right there.”
By the end of that trip, she was hoping he’d ask her to marry him. “I thought, I really love this man,” she said. “That’s it. He broke through all my walls.” She added that the word love does not adequately describe their connection. “What we feel is so much bigger than that small word.”
On Nov. 26, while they were looking at the ornately decorated Christmas trees inside Hotel Roanoke, he knelt down and said, “Do you want to do this?”
They recently moved to Grand Junction, Colo., where he begins work this month at St. Mary’s Medical Center and she is still figuring out her next career move. They decided to elope partly because, as Ms. Moore said, their whole relationship has had the “spontaneous, over-the-top and intimate” spirit of an elopement.
On the morning of the wedding, in the bobbing light of the Drawhorns’ headlamps, the couple slipped, laughed and held on to each other as they made their way to Mesa Arch. The bride’s long train snagged on a branch, then a rock. “Oh, this thing!” she yelped at one point. “Where’s the scissors?”
At the arch, the groom put on his blue jacket and changed into nicer dress shoes he’d carried in a backpack. He was wearing special wedding socks, bright blue ones decorated with otters swimming in pairs. (At the online store where he found them, they were called Significant Otter socks.)
Mesa Arch is a broad, low-lying, sandstone arch atop a cliff overlooking the desert floor. Just peering over the edge gives you the feeling of dropping on a roller coaster. There are stone towers and pinnacles stationed like sentinels throughout the desert; rock formations that resemble half-melted sand castles; cracked and weather-beaten buttes; and in the far distance, snow-covered mountains.
The couple wanted to watch the sunrise at the arch before saying their vows. At first, a narrow strip of bright orange, like eyeliner, appeared on the horizon. Then, as the sun rose, it lit up the entire arch to the point where it glowed almost as red as embers.
“Ready baby?” the groom said.
For the actual ceremony, the couple and the Drawhorns drove about 20 minutes to Dead Horse Point State Park where the view is even more incredible. Dead Horse Point overlooks the Colorado River at a spot where the river makes a series of big, winding, giant slalom-like turns through canyon walls. There were no tourists, no wind, nothing but rocks and earth.
The bride and groom passed by the lookout where there’s a safety railing and instead chose to say their vows, which they wrote separately, on an unprotected ledge. (Imagine a rocky diving platform with a drop-off of 2,000 feet.) “It’s not too late to back out!” the bride exclaimed before reading hers.
Ms. Drawhorn, who became an ordained minister online through Open Ministry, doubled as the officiant. She read a passage cobbled together from the writings of Carl Sagan, the science writer and cosmologist, that included the line: “From within one of the billions of species to walk upon this tiny speck in the universe, we find two imperfect people who want to share their short lives.”
At the end of the ceremony, the groom looked at the bride and said, “Gotcha!”
Then, they scrambled up a nearby snow-covered boulder that was even closer to the edge. The bride seemed unfazed while the groom was covering his eyes with his hands and refusing to look down. “A thousand years go by and I’ll be the one guy standing here when this thing shifts,” he said. “I’ll get a trailhead named after me.”
On This Day
When Jan. 31, 2020
Where Mesa Arch trailhead, Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah
The Reception The couple did not have a reception, but they did celebrate afterward in their own way. “We went to Starbucks immediately,” Dr. Hansen said. “It was so early and I didn’t get my coffee.”
Adventure Elopements The Drawhorns are part of a trend in the West of young couples specializing in photographing elopements that sometimes require rock climbing, kayaking or canyoneering skills to get to the location of the wedding. Some of the photographers live in vans or Airstreams, and travel from elopement to elopement. Many post on Instagram: @thedrawhorns, @thehearnes, @thefoxes, @cedarandpines, @vowofthewild are few examples.
Why Elope? It’s inexpensive and it’s just the two of you. The Drawhorns eloped in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and had a backyard reception later at a total cost of $2,000. While elopements in the past may have involved couples running away, usually to Las Vegas and sometimes for some scandalous reason, that’s changed. Couples want a fun, intense experience. “Now, couples are opting into it,” Mr. Drawhorn said. “They’re choosing it.”