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Boundless Desert Harbor Retreat Elopement in Sandia Park, NM | Rachael & Russell

In the midst of preparing for a large wedding, Russell and Rachael began to wonder if they had other options – if there were alternatives that could both cut costs and reduce their stress. The couple began to explore the possibility of eloping, and just months later, they had abandoned their wedding plans entirely and were exchanging vows in the middle of the New Mexico desert.

Photographer Paul McPherson recalls, “From the moment [they] arrived [until] the very end, their crazy adventure stitched together a beautiful story of union and escape… Their chemistry and bond [were] infectious, and the energy was palpable.” The day was scattered with felicitous moments that made the experience truly memorable, details like the rain ceasing just before the couple’s first look and the appearance of a baby horned toad as they made their way to the ceremony. “In Native American culture, the horned toad brings with it blessings of happiness and prosperity,” Paul shares. “If you’re planning an adventurous elopement, try to let go of a timeline and let nature take over. So many unexpected twists and turns can happen, [which brings] life and authenticity to the overall experience.”

Photography by Shutterfreek


“Russell and I chose to elope in the midst of planning a very large and quite expensive wedding. One year before we wed, my father, mother, and both grandparents passed away, making wedding planning more bitter than sweet and plenty stressful. I just woke up one day and started ‘researching’ how to elope. I was looking for an intimate ceremony with gorgeous landscapes. Russell was entirely on board – this was right up his adventurous alley, and he was relieved I wouldn’t be so stressed.”

[Rachael, Bride]


“The location was an easy pick. We had vacationed in New Mexico the previous year, and the breathtaking scenery and the amazing places we had hiked made it our favorite place for sure, it spoke to us! In all my eloping Googling, I had found Desert Harbor Retreat and knew it was perfect…”



Raymond, the founder of Desert Harbor, was absolutely perfect to plan with. From the first phone call to the last day, everything ran seamlessly in line. We started planning with Raymond, and Paul from Shutterfreek, four months before the big day. Raymond sent out an ‘Elopement Road Map’ and we answered questions off of it – anything from props, hair, makeup, our meals while staying there, type of bouquet and boutonniere, what we’d like said in the officiant script, and so many more things. Raymond wanted to make sure everything ran seamlessly. It was great to know that we would be able to enjoy our day and each other and all the planning would be taken care of.”



“We had fun on our wedding day. We were not stressed, worried, or uncomfortable about any part of it. That is why we chose to elope. I know we could have just hired a wedding planner and went along with the big expensive nuptials, but our serene ceremony in the middle of the stunning desert felt much more symbolic and authentic.”


Location & Coordination | Desert Harbor Retreat
Florals | Albuquerque Florist
Hair & Makeup | Genica Lee

Thank you to Wandering Weddings member Paul McPherson of Shutterfreek for sharing this session, and congratulations to Rachael + Russell!

Member Spotlight Page | Shutterfreek

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