A Spiritual Celebration Overlooking a California Desert

Bride with bouquet and groom
This Modern Romance

The desert holds a special place in the hearts of Christen and Aaron, who often visit the arid landscape with friends for camping and other adventures. However, the California-based couple opted for an island wedding at the stunning Oahu property of a close friend when it came time to plan their wedding. "I had lived on the north shore for 10 years or so, and my dad currently lives on Maui," shares the bride. "We were excited to share such a wild, magical place with our mainland friends—plus we would have had about 20 to 25 guests attending who already lived on the island." But when COVID-19 restrictions made their Hawaiian destination impossible, the pair leaned into the idea of marrying near Joshua Tree. "If you've ever spent time in the desert, it can really teach you about how there is beauty in challenge, resilience, and adaptability," explains Christen. It was an apt theme for the challenging year, so the couple came up with a new vision for their big day. "One without family, a very limited guest count, and a lot of moving parts," says the bride.

She isn't kidding—with only two weeks until their wedding date, Christen and Aaron still didn't have a venue. Enter Stephanie Williams of This Modern Romance. "Stephanie and I have been friends since we were 10 years old, and she planned, decorated, and photographed our wedding," says the bride. She also helped connect the couple to a beautiful desert property Christen came across online that had a last-minute opening: Le Haute Desert Aerie in Pioneertown, California. The property was stunning, offered sleeping accommodations for guests, and had an on-site team available to coordinate the day-of. (The owners are also dog-friendly, so everyone's pups were welcome.) "To have such a gorgeous venue just land in my lap was a dream, and once I committed, the team was really there for me on both a tactical and emotional level," says Christen.

Together with Stephanie, the couple set out to create a sacred, intentional experience for themselves and a very small group of friends, who were tested and agreed to a quarantine ahead of the gathering. "A strong sense of connection, intimacy, and ease was most important to us," says the bride, "so we had most of our guests play a special role in our wedding. It was all very intimate, collaborative, and sweet." Although it was not their original vision, the event was ultimately the right combination of natural beauty and love. "I had no idea that my dream wedding was a tiny wedding out in the desert," says Christen, "but it turned out to be exactly what I needed all along."

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Desert Beauty

Wedding venue in rocky hills
This Modern Romance

The earthy, natural aesthetic the couple sought for their big day was beautifully reflected in the rocky hillside property of Le Haute Desert Aerie. "The main house was designed and hand-built by the owner with lots of imported materials," says Christen. "Reminiscent of Morocco, the colors seemed to blend mysteriously into the dusty pink of the evening and the desert landscape."

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Casual Cool

Groom in tan suit on wooden stool
This Modern Romance

Aaron's slim-fit, camel-toned suit was ordered via ASOS and worked well against the desert backdrop.

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Preowned Perfection

Bride twirling in dress
This Modern Romance

Realizing that the edgy wedding dress she originally planned to purchase didn't fit their new desert vibe, Christen began an online search to find an alternative. She fell in love with a second-hand BHLDN gown; its purple-and-sage-green beading emphasized its graceful embroidery and tulle. "When I first saw it, I knew it was perfect," she says. "It was flowing, delicate, and looked extremely breathable and comfortable." The pre-owned ensemble was rush-shipped just a week before the wedding and arrived just in time—and in flawless shape.

  • How to Store Your Wedding Dress for a Postponed Wedding
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Floral Finishing Touches

Bride wearing flower crown
This Modern Romance

Protea, desert pink roses, dried ferns, and other dried flowers composed Christen's airy bouquet, which paired well with her ethereal gown. "I also wore a gorgeous crown made entirely of dried flowers," she says. Ribbon of raw-edged silk trailed both compositions, adding an extra touch of romance.

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All Dressed in White

Bride with flower girl
This Modern Romance

Their photographer's daughter Juniper—who is also Christen's goddaughter—served as flower girl. She wore a white dress with an embroidered overlay and a crown of dried white flowers, which coordinated beautifully with the bride's. "Seeing her so excited to wear matching flower crowns was really sweet and memorable," Christen says.

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Bearing Rings

Flower girl holding bowl with wedding bands
This Modern Romance

More dried white blooms cradled the couple's wedding bands, which were tied with ribbon.

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The Look of Love

Bride and groom in embrace
This Modern Romance

Christen and Aaron's first look was intensely emotional. "My heart exploded to see him take me in, like he'd been thirsty for years and was finally given a cold glass of water," says the bride. "We took all our couple's photos right then and there, and it was perfect."

  • Pro Tips for Capturing That First Look Magic
08 of 17

A Sacred Experience

Bride and groom exchanging vows
This Modern Romance

"We wanted to really honor the place that we were in by keeping things very simple and minimal," says the bride of the spiritual ceremony. A close friend sang and played songs on a guitar as the couple entered a circle of stones. "We stood on a rug that I had purchased in Morocco that normally hangs on the wall of our bedroom, and our small community surrounded us," Christen describes. A close friend and former housemate officiated while accompanied by her dog, and grounded the proceedings by leading a meditation. The couple then exchanged vows they had written themselves.

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At Last

Bride and groom exit with tossed flower petals
This Modern Romance

As the pair kissed in conclusion, "Love" by Kevin Yazzie began to play—and their friends tossed a blend of dried flowers and herbs over their heads.

10 of 17

Serene Seating

Poufs around fire pit
This Modern Romance

Weathered cushions topped low, fabric-covered stools in a lounge area during the cocktail hour.

11 of 17

Cozy Under the Pergola

Chairs set around fire pit
This Modern Romance

A fire pit was arranged underneath a pergola; this station came in handy after the desert sun went down.

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Reception Set-Up

Long table set with candles, flowers, and plates
This Modern Romance

Two wooden tables were pulled together to create one long structure that seated everyone in attendance. "Stephanie [of This Modern Romance] really made it so gorgeous," says Christen.

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Dreamy Details

Table setting with candles and flowers
This Modern Romance

The center of the tables featured various vessels filled with feather-grass, dried ferns, grasses, and flowers. Natural elements were incorporated into the table settings, including ceramic plates placed atop wooden chargers with linen napkins gathered in matching rings.

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Earthy Design

Up close view of floral arrangement
This Modern Romance

Amid the dried foliage on the tables were small, Ecuadorian Palo Santo bundles for each guest to take home to smudge their spaces (a nod to Christen's grandmother, who is from Ecuador). "I want to acknowledge that Palo Santo in many cases is a very over-harvested sacred wood," says the bride. "It's good to try and buy it from small retailers who are aware of its origins, as we did."

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Icing on the Cake

Small two-tiered simple frosted wedding cake
This Modern Romance

The couple's simple gluten-free wedding cake from The Sugar Shack was iced in vanilla buttercream with a light stone texture.

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Feeling the Music

Bride and groom dancing
This Modern Romance

Big Fleetwood Mac fans, the pair swayed to "As Long as You Follow" for their first dance as husband and wife. "This song has just always made both of us feel our love so deeply," says the bride. "The chorus speaks to us so much because we know that we can overcome anything together."

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Black and white photo of bride and groom at dinner table
This Modern Romance

Photography, Wedding Planning, and Event Design, Stephanie Williams of This Modern Romance
Venue, Le Haute Desert Aerie
Day-of Coordination, Darrien Seqqoya of Le Haute Desert Aerie
Videography, Ryan Seqqoya of Le Haute Desert Aerie
Flowers, Janelle Thomson of Lavenders
Officiant, Jennifer Price
Bridal gown, BHLDN
Hair and Makeup, Alicia Greenleaf
Groom's Attire, ASOS
Engagement Ring, Jen Leddy
Wedding Bands, Bario Neal (groom); Lauren Wolf (bride)
Ceremony Music, Suny Gao
Catering, Miho Catering Co.
Cake, The Sugar Shack

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