This Camp-Themed California Wedding Took Place Beneath a 2,000-Year-Old Tree
On July 21, 2015, Kelsey Womack was in L.A. visiting friends. She was showing one of them how to use Tinder when she saw Kelly Balch's photo, and swiped right. Kelsey and Kelly matched, but didn't meet in person, because Kelsey was headed home to New York the following day. Nearly two months later, the pair met for the first time in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. "I was coming to New York to do a shoot, remembered she lived there and thought, 'Oh, she can show me around,'" Kelly says. "So, I hit her up, and well, the rest is history."
About two years later, the couple knew their engagement was on the horizon, but surprised one another when they proposed within three days of each other. First, Kelsey (who works in art museums in exhibition design and production) proposed to Kelly (a wedding photographer) during one of her photo shoots. They met at Griffith Observatory (the site of their first L.A. date) and put a few quarters in the tower viewer binoculars. When the view finally focused, Kelly saw more than forty of her friends and family standing below with signs that said, "KELLY TURN AROUND." Kelsey was waiting behind her on one knee.
Next, it was Kelly's turn to propose, so she picked Kelsey up early from work with flowers, blindfolded her, and brought her to a hiking trail they love in Calabasas. Upon arrival, their friend was waiting—dressed in character ("southern farmer") and the three hiked up the hill, where a BBQ picnic awaited. Kelly showed her soon-to-be fiancée a video of moments from their relationship alongside one she shot of her holding a ring box in the very field they were sitting. Their friend, Maiara, sang a cover of Peter Gabriel's "The Book of Love." "When I looked up and came out of that moment, I saw a bunch of our friends standing around," Kelsey says. "I was so surprised they came to witness us get engaged, again!"
Just over a year later, Kelsey and Kelly went for another hike—this time to say, "I do" in the secluded Balch Park, on the ridge of Sequoia National Forest joined by 250 "amazing and adventurous" friends and family. Kelly describes "Camp Balch" as "a magical fairy wedding."
On October 7, 2017, Kelsey and Kelly stood inside a circle of flowers as they exchanged personally-written vows. "It was a beautiful reason to bring our friends and family together to dance under the stars and celebrate at the top of a mountain surrounded by trees," Kelsey says.
Welcome to Camp Balch
The L.A. duo traded in traffic for trees during their camping-themed wedding celebration. On the ridge of the Sequoia National Forest, Kelly and Kelsey made it official in Balch Park beside one of the oldest trees in the country. The brides handed out these fun enamel mugs to each of their "I Do Crew" and camp counselors—friends and family who helped make their weekend in the woods special. "We didn't hire a wedding coordinator and their team; we wanted to develop a camp or commune kind of atmosphere, so we decided to ask some of our closest friends to be camp counselors," Kelly says. "They helped with everything, and I mean everything."
The mountain destination was significant to the couple in more ways than one. "We knew we wanted a camp wedding, and we knew we wanted it to be under a canopy of trees," Kelly says. "It was only be sheer fate that we found our location, and only later did we find out that I was actually related to the man who salvaged the park nearly 100 years ago from logging, and donated it to the county." Having their camping wedding was no easy feat and required collaboration among many parties, including the park ranger, their "Camp Counselors" and "I Do Crew," and even Cal Fire—who extinguished an enormous forest fire a few miles away from the park just one month before the big day.
Kelsey was browsing ModCloth when she came across this ivory dress, which "almost perfectly" matched what she envisioned wearing to the wedding. "So, I ordered it, tried it on, sent my Mom a photo, and decided it was the one," she says. Kelsey's shoe choice was easy. "I wear Clarks 'Phenia Desert' boots most days of the week, so it was only fitting that I wear them at our wedding, too!"
Though finding a button-up that was slim and fit proved difficult, Kelly was pleased with this style from Topman. She used a template to create the white bow tie she wore and her bride-to-be helped her put it together. "Kelsey wanted to put her loving touch to it, so she sewed it together," Kelly says. She completed her look with Ted Baker ivory pants, white suspenders, and Wolverine "1000 Mile" boots.
The Bridal Bouquet
Kelsey's bouquet, arranged by Garin and Gabe of Baura New York, featured pops of the couple's color palette: burgundy, periwinkle, and eucalyptus green in an array of ranunculus, dahlias, scabiosa, thistle, snowberry, dusty miller, and astilbe. "I wanted to keep all of them alive forever," Kelsey says of the flowers she carried.
The Wedding Bands
Kelly and Kelsey's Jewelry by Johan wedding bands were made of meteorite and wood. "We each have different types of wood, but they are close in style," Kelsey says. "We wanted our rings to be a reflection of our love: grounded and cosmic."
The "I Do Crew"
Kelly and Kelsey's "I Do Crew," which was made up of family and friends, received a key ring with different swatches prior to the wedding. "We told them that was our color palette, and to wear anything they want within those colors," Kelly says. "So, it was really interesting to see that more than half of our wedding party decided to wear pant suits and suspenders."
"It was so nice to fill a campground with the people you love, to see all of the hard work they did for your wedding, then step back and be humbled by how it all came together," Kelsey adds.
The Ceremony Spot
The couple's friends and family sported "forest formal" or "lumberjack chic" attire and sat on bales of hay during the afternoon ceremony in the woods. "Seeing our friends in flannel sometimes makes me smile on the inside," Kelsey says. "It's the little things that seem overwhelming in the planning process, but could take you back to that moment in years to come."
Before Kelsey and Kelly walked down the aisle, they hid behind separate trees with a curtain blocking guests' views of them, and their view of each other. The brides walked toward one another down different aisles, and continued on together once they reached the middle. The song that played was one of Kelly's favorites—Hundred Waters' "Show Me Love."
Each hay bale on the aisle had a cone of petals attached to it. "Kelly and I dried and preserved flowers from special memories over the course of two years," Kelsey says. "They were then crumbled, mixed together, and recycled as confetti."
Kelly and Kelsey included a sage burning as part of their ceremony, and sent some home with their guests, along with custom matchbooks. "Sage has been burned in rituals for thousands of years for metaphysical cleansing," Kelsey says. "Negativity was absorbed by the sage smoke, then released or cleansed from the energy field of a person."
A Ceremony Circle
The brides wrote their own vows, which Kelly says were "ironically very similar" and exchanged them beside a tree more that's more than 2000 years old. "It is understood to be one of the oldest trees in the country, and even being in its presence is humbling," Kelsey says. The couple stood within a crescent of flowers, "to give us a little flower bubble to be inside of," Kelsey adds.
The newlyweds recessed up the aisle to "Show Me Love" once more, but this time it was a remix by Big Wild.
Tying the Knot in Nature
Kelly and Kelsey are in agreement on their favorite moment of the day: "To be wed and saying our vows to each other in front of all our friends and family, with our two best friends as officiates, all beneath one of the oldest and tallest trees in the world," Kelly says.
The Sage Babies
These kiddos, who the couple called their "sage babies," are Kelly's nieces and Kelsey's god children. They carried cauldrons of burning sage down the guests' aisles during the ceremony.
Garin and Gabe of Baura New York are good friends and colleagues of Kelsey's, so she and Kelly trusted them with the design elements of the reception. "We told them we loved eucalyptus, and wanted low seating for more of a casual look," the couple says. "They are creative magicians." The end result were long tables with lanterns and greenery on top making for a whimsical ambience, set with white stools for seating.
When it came time to choose their menu, Kelsey and Kelly thought about what kind of food people eat when they're camping. They decided the answer was "mainly BBQ." So, they served Anvil BBQ for dinner, along with a vegetarian option. After counting roughly 30 vegan and vegetarian guests, Kelsey and Kelly asked two of their friends, who were also camp counselors, if they would be up for cooking. "Without hesitation, they said yes, and so on our wedding day, they were at our Airbnb cooking up a storm," the couple says.
During the toasts, the couple's friend, Devon, played "Forevermore" for them.
The Prayer Flag Guestbook
In lieu of signing a guestbook, friends and family were asked to create a prayer flag, traditionally used to promote peace, compassion, and strength. Guests illustrated positive imagery and wishes with the flags, which Kelsey and Kelly displayed after their big day. "We hung them outdoors as a reminder of the love we witnessed on our wedding day, and continue to share with all beings."
The Airstream Trailer
Kelly and Kelsey had always wanted to stay in an Airstream, so they rented one for their weekend in the woods—and said it looked so cool. The only bump in the road? The heater wasn't working, so the couple opted to stay in an Airbnb down the mountain the night before their wedding.
Photography, Anna Delores Photography
Location, Balch Park
Event planning, flowers & lighting, Baura New York
Catering, The Anvil BBQ
Videography, Just Love Films
Officiant, Makena Hunt and Vanessa
Calligraphy, Dutchy Designs
Music, Arie Opzeeland on acoustic guitar; Devon Werkheiser
Kelsey's gown, ModCloth
Kelsey's shoes, Clarks Shoes
Wedding bands, Jewelry by Johan