Julie and Yanna woke up at dawn the day of their weddings.
The ceremony took place on top of a rock formation in Red Rock Canyon, so everyone agreed it would be wonderful to have the ceremony early, before the sun started re-baking the Las Vegas desert.
These two Russian couples, fantastically energetic and deliriously happy, were nearing the end of a month long pre-wedding honeymoon that included stops in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and a smattering of National Parks.
To take the wedding experience home with them, both couples decided they wanted as many photos as possible, which is where Laura Grier came in. Laura knows about all the hidden destinations in Las Vegas, the first of which was Red Rock Canyon.
This was no Elvis-officiated-last-minute-drunk-and-up-a-hundred-bucks-wedding. Julie and Yanna spent months picking out their dresses, a family event, and then lovingly packed them into suitcases, right next to the heart-shaped paper lanterns to be lit at sunset.
After officially being declared man and wife, Alex and Julie shouted their new name at the canyon and listened as was brought back to them in echoes.
Then we gathered for Max and Yanna’s ceremony.
We watched rose petals flutter around Yanna’s dress and gasped when Max picked Yanna up and swung her, laughing, in a circle – right over the canyon and back to her feet.
We leaned over the edge to see, far below, the bottom of the canyon, and then looked up, thousands of feet up, to the rounded peaks of mountains.
Here, the pebbles were so smooth that we took off our shoes to clamber across boulders and up rock formations.
Smooth and cool to the touch– as if the stones remembered the desert night and wanted to pass it on.
The red Mustang convertibles Alex and Maxim rented.
We ate lunch at Bonnie Springs, an abandoned outpost of the Wild Wild West– buffalo burgers and pulled pork sandwiches with Arnold Palmers on the side – and then pulled out the heavy artillery.
Laura procured a number of historical guns for the couples to pose with: a shotgun, three Colt .45s, and a Derringer, complete with holsters.
Straight away, Yanna and Julie put Maxim and Alex in the local jail.
Toured the local saloon, and stopped at the Chapel.
They robbed the old bank.
After cooling off at the Encore pool for a while, we drove north, past all of that, and landed at the Neon Museum. The Neon Museum is where all of Vegas’s neon signs retire.
It’s outdoor, and visitations are (right now) by reservation only, so again, we were alone.
We lost ourselves between, below, and around signs dating all the way back to the forties.
The Stardust was there, tall and graceful, with its trademark diamonds pointed at the sky.
Filament lightbulbs, each hand-dipped, traced shapes and letters across steel frames.
We left feeling as if we’d been a part of all the parties, all the great moments in Vegas history, from Raphael Rivera, who named the coined the city “the Meadows,” to Donald Trump with his golden skyscraper.
It was getting late – the shadows stretched, and Vegas was bathed in the kind of hot afternoon glow that make you feel like you’re in a movie.
Still in a red convertible, we headed for the sunset and Lake Mead. Alex and Julie rented a boat which was anchored twenty minutes from the Hoover Dam.
The boat was fast, but had room enough to change into bathing suits. As we sped toward a quiet inlet, Julie’s veil billowed against the wind, Alex gazed in amazement at his new wife, and we all took in gulps of sweet mountain air.
The water was turquoise, a deep and vast bowl of topaz.
From the water, we watched the mountains turn red, violet, then blue and deep purple as the sun sank.
I met them in Las Vegas, where the neon lights crash a sweet percussion against the sky, where you’re always young, where fruity cocktails are named after Frank Sinatra, even though he only drank whisky, and that, only straight. Lord, it’s a lovely place.