A Southern Celebration
Katelyn & Luke
Words by Luke Utsey + Photography by Heather Erson
It’s not every day that you travel across the country just to meet someone from right next door. But, that very thing happened to Katelyn and me in the summer of 2011 while working at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. It was my second summer working in Yellowstone National Park, but it was her first, so the 20-foot snowdrifts in Hayden Valley and the not infrequent snowfall had her looking out for someone from home, someone she could talk to about the strangeness of this new place. When she saw my Alabama name tag, Katelyn came right up and spouted a litany of all the things that made life as a park employee inconvenient. I can remember walking away thinking, what was her problem?
A few days later, I organized a car trip to go see the Tetons; a few of us planned to make our way to Antelope Flats and take in the scenery. Katelyn and her friend wanted to come, so I said I would pick them up after work. When it was time to leave, the girls were nowhere to be found, so they missed the trip. When I returned, I was greeted by a disappointed lady who proceeded to convince me that the only way to make up for my leaving her was to go again the next day—just the two of us. Instead of walking away thinking, what was her problem, I walked away thinking, this girl likes me, and she’s pretty good-looking, too.
We were married at Jackson Lake Lodge six years after we went there on our first date. Seventy of our closest friends and family members joined us for the wedding.
That next day, we drove from Lake Yellowstone to the Tetons and ended up stopping right next to Jackson Lake Lodge. After admiring the scenery, Katelyn suggested eating dinner at the nearby hotel. During that dinner, I realized I had found someone I enjoyed being around more than anyone else I had ever met. My companion was witty, intelligent, beautiful, and blessed with the kind of smile that makes you feel valuable and comfortable. We took our time eating and didn’t get back home until after midnight. When I dropped her off at her door that night, I thought, I could get very used to dinners like that. Did we just become best friends?
The summer that followed was the best of our lives, and we quickly became inseparable. We made plenty of trips back to the Tetons, spent more than a few nights camping under the incomparable western sky, and hiked scores of miles on the trails in and out of the parks. When the summer came to an end, I had a big decision to make. Even though we were both from Alabama, I had a winter job waiting for me at Winter Park Resort in Colorado. Prior to meeting Katelyn, I’d decided to live the vagabond, temporary-job, western lifestyle for a while. However, my serious feelings for Katelyn made me reconsider.
I decided to go home to Alabama with Katelyn. Ultimately, I had to give this relationship a chance no matter what the cost because I had never felt about anyone the way I felt about Katelyn. The happiness I feel when I look at her is more tangible than the happiness of living out West without a care in the world.
We were married at Jackson Lake Lodge six years after we went there on our first date. Seventy of our closest friends and family members joined us for the wedding. One of the most rewarding parts of the whole experience was seeing our guests’ reactions as they witnessed the sights and wonders that were an incubator for our relationship. It was a pleasure to talk to everyone about their favorite park activities; no one was disappointed.
After a quaint rehearsal dinner at Café Genevieve the night before the wedding, our guests came together in a fantastic space at Jackson Lake Lodge, where they mingled inside and out while soaking in the magical evening. It was the best night of my life! And, as we flew back to Alabama as newlyweds, I knew I had made the right choice.
12 August 2017
Jackson Lake Lodge
Rev. Karlin Bilcher
hair & makeup
hair: Eric Hill
makeup: Stephanie Mus
Heather Erson Photography
Judd Grossman Entertainment, Inc.
Destination Jackson Hole
Jackson Lake Lodge
Jackson Cake Company
Montana Party Rentals Creative Coverings