A Spontaneous Sedona Elopement

Holly Lorka and Melissa Shields decided to scrap their plans for a wedding ceremony in Austin and get married amid Arizona’s red rocks instead.,

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It didn’t take long for Melissa Shields to envision a future with Holly Lorka after they met in July 2019. When Ms. Shields got home that night, she had what she calls “clicks,” or pictures in her head of all the things the two might do together, like get married, have children and even be on a reality TV show.

On Oct. 27, they checked the first item off that list.

Mx. Lorka, who uses a gender neutral courtesy title, said she “knew immediately” that Ms. Shields “was into me.” The feeling, Mx. Lorka added, was mutual. “I got sweaty and nervous and dropped things. I also managed to charm my way into getting her info. I can be pretty charming, even while sweating.”

A native of Phoenix, Mx. Lorka, 52, graduated from Arizona State University and works as an intensive care unit nurse for gender affirmation surgery patients at the Hospital at Westlake Medical Center in Austin, Texas. She is also the author of “Handsome,” a memoir about gender identity.

Ms. Shields, 34, is from Grafton, Ohio. A graduate of the University of Akron, she received a master’s degree in education from John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio, and is now training to be a yoga instructor.

The two met in Austin, while Ms. Shields was visiting the city with her brother. Their first date took place on the concrete floor of Mx. Lorka’s empty house, which had recently been vacated by renters. They spent it “sharing secrets and eating Thai food for seven hours,” Mx. Lorka said. “For the next date, I made sure there were chairs. And other furniture.”

After the pandemic hit, Ms. Shields, who was living in Cleveland, relocated to Austin to spend the spring of 2020 with Mx. Lorka.

“I’ve never had so much fun with someone who made me feel so safe,” said Ms. Shields, who moved to Austin in the summer of 2021. “All we do is laugh and find joy in the simplest things.”

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Credit…Carlos Aviles

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On July 16, 2020, Mx. Lorka rented a boat for a surprise proposal on Lake Travis near Austin. The couple had originally planned for a wedding in Austin with just the two of them, but later decided to elope to Sedona, Ariz. “I love how tranquil yet energizing the surroundings of Sedona are,” Ms. Shields said.

Mx. Lorka added, “Like most things in my life, everything happened spontaneously.”

The day of their wedding began with a drive, led by Pink Jeep Tours, through the area’s red-rock formations to the top of Schnebly Hill Road. “They bounce you all over the place and take you rock crawling,” Mx. Lorka said.

Ms. Shields wore a burgundy dress she bought secondhand at the Austin Habitat for Humanity ReStore for $2. “I have the same dress in black that I wore on one of our dates early on,” she said. “I thrifted that, too.” Mx. Lorka wore a Calvin Klein suit.

Jessica Thompson, ordained by Rose Ministries, officiated at the ceremony, which took place at Carousel Rock, a formation at the top of Schnebly Hill Road. “We had our ceremony next to the lone juniper tree that’s up there,” Mx. Lorka said.

Of the ceremony, Ms. Shields added, “I don’t think there was any crying. We laughed the whole way up so we were totally relaxed.”

With a “Just Married” sign affixed to the pink Jeep they had booked, the couple made their way back to town for dinner at Shorebird, a restaurant in Sedona. On Nov. 6, the couple held an outdoor reception with 30 guests in attendance at Articulture, an events space and boutique in Austin.

At dinner on the night of their wedding, complete strangers congratulated them all evening, Ms. Shields said, including “folks at the next table who had been going down Schnebly Hill Road while we were going up.”

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