One thing I’m incredibly passionate about is Iowa’s landscape. I often have discussions—or what some may call arguments—with folks defending our great state in regards to its topography. I get it: we’re not Colorado or Washington. We don’t have the Redwoods of California, the mountains of Wyoming, or the coastline or Oregon. Some photographers bemoan the endless greenery and lack of mountainous skyline. But what we do have is an incredibly diverse and beautiful landscape—you just might need to know where to look. And Decorah is exactly one of those places.
As conservationists, Nick and Rachel love Iowa’s natural landscape more than the average bear. (Or bison, if we want to keep it relevant.) They met when they were interns at Neil Smith Wildlife Refuge in Prairie City, sharing their love of the prairie with one another until that love blossomed into a love for one another. Rachel grew up in the prairies of North-Eastern Iowa in Decorah, introduced to nature by her father, a naturalist himself who is affectionately known as “Prairie Terry” in the community. (Like, seriously. This is not just a casual nickname. We heard someone say, “Is that Prairie Terry?!” as we took family photos from a distance. Don’t let his humble attitude fool you, he is a local celebrity.) It only made sense to Rachel and Nick to exchange “I do”s in the prairie that her family had helped restore and preserve, a space that means so much to them, her family, and their community.
Of my own accord, I decided to arrive in Decorah a day early to “scout”—which was really just code for “Lauren wants to go hiking all day.” When planning their timeline, Rachel and Nick suggested a few first-look spots near to the Decorah Community Prairie where they’d be holding their formal ceremony. In order to make the trip a clearly professional endeavor, I figured I’d start off my exploring at the first spot on their list, Phelps Park. Located on top of a bluff overlooking town, I pulled in and admired the quaint gazebo and latticed arbor walkway. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a signpost for the trailhead and thought, “Well…we could hike on the wedding day, right?”
To say I was blown away was an understatement. Every turn the trees grew denser and more lush. Pockets of the bluff overlook peeked out between the foliage, providing vast prairie and a riving snaking across the landscape. And after a few minutes of walking, the trees opened to a dramatic, wooden footbridge surrounded by bluff walls over a small valley creek. This was the it. This was the spot. Only five minutes from the parking lot and I was in one of the most beautiful, peaceful places I’d ever found in Iowa.
A side note: I actually said, "Oh my GOD, whaaaaat?" when I saw the bridge. I wasn't aware of the four adults coming up the stone stairs from the foot bridge when I blurted this out loud. Making eye contact, in my excitement I said, "Did you know this was here?!" and one of the gentlemen said, "Uh...yeah." before they all quietly walked by me. I am now the local crazy lady. I have no shame.
But that’s how the whole weekend went. It seemed like every place I went I found the next most beautiful place I had ever been in Iowa. Starting the wedding morning off with a hike, I found a gorgeous trail running along the river, where I found an abandoned bird’s nest which I snatched up for Nick and Rachel’s ring photos. Pulpit Rock, where Rachel and Nick took pictures after their first look and private vows, was nothing but endless views—in particular, a perfect view of the large tree where they’d soon be getting married. And the prairie. Oh, the prairie. The prairie her father had helped restore. The one she had run around as a child. The one her and Nick held hands in front of family and friends and committed their lives to one another. This prairie would change anyone’s mind about the beauty of Iowa. If you couldn’t tell from my fluffy language thus far, I am not often without words. But there is no way to accurately describe how beautiful this prairie was, especially with Nick and Rachel as the centerpiece on their wedding day. It was absolutely a dream come true. (And that’s saying a lot in the middle of the prairie during an Iowa summer.)
After our day of outdoor adventure and exploring, Rachel, Nick, and their friends and family finished the day off at Pinter’s Garden Center just outside of town. And while the indoor space was beautiful, it was of no surprise that literally almost every single person spent the entire evening outdoors enjoying the beautiful summer evening playing yard games and catching up.
I try to use the word “perfect” sparingly, because perfection is such a relative term. But for me, the entire day was absolute perfection.
Reception: Pinter’s Gardens & Pumpkins
Videographer: Bailey Creative Co.