They wanted to take their friends and family someplace special. They wanted a destination wedding. The Gage Hotel would be the perfect, quiet getaway for Mercedes and Ryan's nuptials, but the location was a concern -- Marathon is an extremely remote area of West Texas, about seven hours from Austin and 10 from Dallas. They weren't sure if many guests would make it to their wedding, but they booked the site anyway and hoped for the best. Of the 120 invited, 86 people came from Austin, Dallas, Wisconsin, Oregon, even Italy, to see Mercedes and Ryan tie the knot.
THE BRIDE Mercedes Paul, 27, recruiter
THE GROOM Ryan Smith, 26, software developer
THE DATE October 20
THE SCENE Ceremony in The Kiva Courtyard of The Gage Hotel; reception at The Ritchey Brothers
Mercedes and Ryan arranged for a long weekend celebration, with the wedding party arriving on Wednesday and most of the guests on Thursday. To help friends and family feel at home, the couple furnished each guest's hotel room with a goodie bag. Welcome packages included a weekend schedule, cinnamon Altoids, pistachios, pretzels, chocolate-chip cookies, and other sugary delights to keep people awake and ready for a fun, active weekend. A treat-filled lunch box was paired with two coffee mugs branded with the wedding date and an "MR" (the same "Mercedes-Ryan" logo the couple used throughout their wedding, from the save-the-date cards to the wedding cake). In a courtyard at the hotel on Friday night, the rehearsal dinner celebration unfolded to the sounds of a country and western swing band -- a perfect prelude to the Southwest-inspired wedding.
The couple exchanged vows on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in the Kiva Courtyard of the historic Gage Hotel. "It's a small, quaint, and enclosed courtyard in the back of the hotel," says Mercedes. "Our minister, who is a close friend of my family, wrote our ceremony for us." Afterward the wedding party and family made their way to a separate courtyard for formal pictures, while the remaining guests gathered in a third courtyard where a mariachi band provided entertainment. Guests mingled, enjoying cocktails before a breathtaking backdrop of the mountains in Big Bend National Park. Shortly after the newlyweds arrived to join their guests, the mariachi band led the gathering down the street, across the railroad tracks, and to the reception at The Ritchey Brothers (an entity of The Gage Hotel) -- an old, brick warehouse renovated to accommodate large events.
Guests trickled into the space and found their seats at tables artfully adorned with mixed flowers and fruit in unique heirloom silver dishes that belonged to the mother of the bride. As everyone enjoyed a dinner of oven-baked quail wrapped in bacon, prime rib with a red- wine and mushroom sauce, and Portobello mushroom enchiladas, the mariachis continued to entertain. After the meal, Mercedes' maternal grandfather, a retired piano professor, performed a few memorable numbers, including the father-daughter dance ("As Time Goes By"), which was followed by Mercedes and Ryan's first dance to "At Last" by Etta James, spun by the DJ.
For dessert, the couple served a four-tier wedding cake. The groom's cakes were three cheesecakes -- one covered in strawberries, one in chocolate shavings, and another with cherries -- were equally popular choices. The rest of the evening unfolded just as Mercedes and Ryan had hoped: family and friends having a wonderful time and sharing the love with heartfelt toasts. "It was really special to see how many people wanted to toast us and wish us the best of luck," says Mercedes. Later a DJ helped usher in an evening of equal-opportunity dancing by playing everything from Frank Sinatra standards to the Village People.
Around 11 p.m., Mercedes and Ryan secretly escaped the celebration while all the guests were still dancing. They quickly and quietly headed for their honeymoon suite just a short trip down the road.
Photography © Ashley Garmon & Elisabeth Donovan
For the ingredients that make up this wedding, see the right-hand column of this page.
See More: Real Weddings: Formal Affairs