A Celestial Wedding

Celebrating Jackson’s Dark Skies
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Words by Christina Shepherd McGuire + PHOTOGRAPHY BY Samuel Singer

The dark night sky envelops us here in the Tetons. It’s one of the things we covet as locals, and it’s one of the reasons why city dwellers fall in love with Jackson Hole. On any cloudless night, our lack of light pollution allows you to become completely cloaked in the Milky Way. This view is mesmerizing—set against the Teton Mountain Range—and often causes night sky watchers to lose track of time as they linger in nature.

Stargazing and wedding festivities typically don’t go hand in hand, but with Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, and Driggs, Idaho, all on their way to achieving Dark Sky Certification, it’s a shame to let this natural resource go unappreciated by guests.

“I bet we’ve done somewhere between 15 to 20 weddings,” says Samuel Singer, executive director of Wyoming Stargazing. “We’re usually invited to one or two weddings a summer—some summers we’ve done three or four—all without any promotion.”

Singer and his staff of night sky experts love to share their passion for the stars and planets. But first, before committing themselves to a wedding, they need to visit the venue to suss things out. They evaluate the ground, making sure there’s a flat enough spot away from the festivities to set up telescopes, and then they assess the view of the sky, assuring they can pull things off without a hitch.

“Most outdoor wedding [venues] have big sweeping views and open spaces, like Buffalo Valley [Ranch] or the Gray Barn,” he says. “There is really nowhere in the valley that precludes stargazing because of night pollution … sometimes because of trees, but that rarely happens.”

Once the venue walkthrough is done, Singer asks couples exactly what they are looking for: Do you want just one telescope set off to the side, so people can wander off? Or, do you want four or five telescopes, front and center? His only prerequisite is that he’s not placed by the bonfire because the smoke and heat disturbs the visibility of the night sky, causing things to look fuzzy.

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Photo by Rebecca Vanderhorst

Working stargazing festivities into your wedding itinerary can be creatively planned, too. Emma Ray and Tucker Tyler wanted their Linn Canyon Ranch wedding, in Victor, Idaho, to be all about dancing and stargazing. Emma, a science teacher at Teton High School in Driggs, and Tucker, Valley of the Tetons’ Makerspace specialist, both had a personal interest in dark skies and previously attended one of Singer’s events. At their wedding, they wanted to provide a low-key activity for guests who were not that big on partying, and also for those seeking quiet time away from the dance floor. 

“People really liked it,” says Tucker. “The telescope was set up in an obvious space, and then [guests] spread the word. We had a few people that spent their entire night at the telescope.”

Emma and Tucker included a mention of stargazing in their invitations, so that guests knew what to expect when they showed up to see a telescope front and center. You can also take things one step further by working the activity into the branding of your night. Tables can be named after planets, and drinks can come complete with constellation-inspired names. Signage can point people to a viewing alcove, and you can even have guests pose for photos against the backdrop of the sky.

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“Sam brought a long exposure camera and allowed people to pose for photos with the Milky Way in the background,” says Tucker. “Guests got really into it—and the staff working the event also got to see the stars and get their photo taken, too.” 

Tucker says people commented about the stargazing aspect of their wedding long after it was over. 

“People who don’t even enjoy weddings said they appreciated the opportunity to partake in an interesting activity,” he says.

Singer feels like stargazing exemplifies the celebration of a union. It’s the takeaway that lives on in the minds of couples and guests alike.

“You are bringing all these people from distant parts of your life together—bringing new families together to create something new,” he says. “So when you look up into the night sky and have someone explain how all the little bits of the solar system and the planets have come together, that broad spectrum of connectivity is a really cool thing to think about.” 

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Photo by Samuel Singer

The Dos of a Night Sky Wedding:
  • DO book early. Summer is the busiest time of year for Wyoming Stargazing. Booking as far in advance as possible will assure availability. (wyomingstargazing.org)
  • DO book your wedding during stargazing events, like the Perseid Meteor Shower, in mid-August, the Leonid Meteor Shower, mid-November, and the best Milky Way sightings, late July, August, and September.
  • DO let guests know there will be stargazing by mentioning it in your announcements and putting it on your program.
  • DO plan the timing around your other wedding activities. (Stargazing can start at dusk and go as late as you want it to.)
  • DO make sure the telescope is far away from the bonfire.
  • DO ask tipsy uncle Larry to come see the stars. “The drinkers tend to invite the crowds over. It’s great!” says Samuel. 

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