A natural chapel

Submitted by Margaret Howard 


During a 1999 archeological survey of the rock basins at Hueco Tanks State Park in El Paso, our team found a rock overhang on the south side of the central basin that reminded me of a small chapel.

As I continued to study the archeological data, I became more and more convinced of the special role that these water-holding rock hills in the Chihuahuan desert played over the millennia. I did not yet realize that the park would come to have a central role in my life also.

Nine years later, my fiancé and I considered options for what would be the second wedding in our (now) middle-aged lives. We decided on a small wedding in a natural setting. What place could be better than the church-like rock alcove at Hueco Tanks?

We made arrangements for a day in early November and envisioned a midday wedding followed by a romantic camp stove dinner and dancing via our Jeep's CD player at Campsite 12, which has a secluded, beautiful view.

Like most weddings, things turned out beautifully but not quite as planned. The differential on the Jeep began to whine when we hit I-10 and had burned up by the time we reached El Paso. A dealer honored the warranty but parts had to be shipped in from New Mexico. We transferred the camping gear to a rental car and headed out to Hueco Tanks.

On the big day, we met our pastor at the airport and drove out to the park. The wind began to rise as we donned our fleece vests and hiked to the rock overhang. My wedding hairstyle quickly became a ponytail.

We had a deeply meaningful ceremony with the Park Superintendent (and personal friend) as our witness. She then took us on a tour of a few rock art sites; our pastor was impressed with the spirituality they represented.

After the ceremony, dust began to kick up. We battened down our equipment and tightened our tent ropes. Our romantic dinner turned into hastily-prepared turkey wraps. Dancing plans were abandoned. We put on all the warm clothes we had and hunkered down in the tent.

Temperatures dropped to the 30s that wedding night. In our planning we had not realized that there is a huge difference between October and November weather in the Hueco desert valley.

My husband woke early and heated coffee on the camp stove as the sun rose and warmed our campsite. We headed to El Paso and reclaimed the Jeep, which was said to be repaired but whined all the way back to Austin.

When I described our wedding to another new bride, she termed it a "destination" wedding, though I suspect most bridal magazines would not include early winter camping in that definition. Nevertheless, we remember that special day very fondly, and the enduring spirit of Hueco Tanks is an essential part of our lives together.

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