When it comes to staging an elegant wedding, nothing compares to the beauty of an outdoor reception. And in Tucson, with its mountain surround, desert flora and yearlong temperate weather, everywhere you look there is a picture-perfect backdrop that can be yours on the most important day of your life.

Some of Tucson's finest wedding locales are those that play up the Southwest's natural geography and culture. The 600-acre Tanque Verde Ranch Resort, which offers three settings for outdoor ceremonies - a raised mountain-view terrace, a verdant tree-filled background or a cool, lush nuptials lawn - provides couples with the ideal blend of casual solitude and resort pampering. "You get the best of both worlds, bringing Tucson flavor to the wedding without it being overdone," explains catering manager Cindy Benequista, who coordinates the property's weddings.

Other options in town include Reflections at the Buttes, Hilton El Conquistador Resort and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the first two offering stunning views of Pusch Ridge, and the latter providing colorful gardens and wide-open desert and mountain vistas.

The beauty of an outdoor wedding is that it also provides couples with a type of freedom that can't be expressed when constrained by the dimensions of a hall. Without walls couples can tailor the site just so to create the perfect scene and atmosphere.

"We capitalize on what their wants are," says Reflections' Debi Fazio, who will create the perfect outdoor wedding, whether that includes capturing the sunset backdrop, providing the perfect city views or nestling the couple under a large maple tree with grass underfoot. "The ambiance is unique for even what a desert venue is," she says.

For those seeking the most unadulterated desert wedding possible, there's no better location than the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Situated roughly 15 miles west of the city, the museum sits in the saguaro-dotted Sonoran desert and is home to myriad native wildlife, some of which might even make an appearance during weddings, says Linda Meschino, visitor services supervisor.

Regardless of the site, local wedding planners suggest using elements found in the natural surroundings to enhance the wedding's Southwestern feel. For instance, potted cactus centerpieces are frequently used at the Hilton and Desert Museum. "It really says Sonoran Desert and Tucson," notes Meschino.

One couple at Reflections had a small floral budget, so Fazio helped them collect thistle from around the grounds. She sprayed them white and placed the pieces on mirrors in the center of each table. "It turned out to be one of the most beautiful weddings," Fazio recalls.

To further reflect an Old Pueblo theme, LeeAnn Perry-Walker, Hilton El Conquistador's director of catering suggests focusing on the desert's unique color scheme. "Bring in jewel tones like teal and brown and other rich colors of the Southwest," she says.

One of the richest and most beautiful of all desert colors is also one of the most popular reasons why Tucson couples choose to have an outdoor ceremony - the one-of-a-kind salmon sunsets. "The time of day is critical," Benequista says. She and the others strongly suggest planning your wedding around the sunset and allowing ample time for photos.

That's because, after the "I Dos" have been said, the champagne has been drunk, and the last dance has been danced, it's the picture-perfect memories that will last forever. And where better to take them than the beautiful Tucson landscape.

 

Venues

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

2021 N. Kinney Road

520-883-1380 x263

www.desertmuseum.org

Hilton Tucson El Conquistador

Golf & Tennis Resort

10000 N. Oracle Road

520-544-1121

www.hiltonelconquistador.com

Reflections at the Buttes

9800 N. Oracle Road

520-229-0627

www.reflectionsatthebuttes.com

Tanque Verde Ranch Resort

14301 E. Speedway Boulevard

520-296-6275

www.tanqueverderanch.com