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How We Turned an Abandoned Dude Ranch into a Wedding Venue

Updated: Jan 20

Searching for a wedding venue can be complicated and downright frustrating. There are so many choices, but each comes with different options, different prices and their own varied list of pros and cons. Not to mention you feel like you are about to give your entire life savings to the venue, and then you find out that the cost doesn’t even include booze or cake! (Did anyone else’s mouth drop open like mine did during the process?). That is why my husband and I decided to create our own wedding venue.

He is from a small town near the four corners area of Colorado. His family was lucky enough to know someone who had land with a (for lack of a better word) abandoned dude ranch on it. Meaning it had some power and some structures. This was a gold mine since some of existing structures helped the venue take shape.

Don’t get me wrong, we still had our work cut out for us. Below are pictures from our visit in July, 11 months before our wedding. As you can see it had been a year since the last event was held there and it needed some TLC. Local kids had come through and broken glass, left bottles behind, and damaged some structures. To quote my mom “it was a little rough around the edges”. However, my mother-in-law stands by the phrase that “we have more time than we have money”. Meaning get out that elbow grease and let’s get to work!

I had a few short months to decide how I wanted the venue to look. With the permission from the landowner to fix up whatever we wanted, I began sketching out ideas and making lists. I have a good imagination and can look at something and envision something else. I began working on bird’s eye depictions and inspiration boards to get my husband and family on board. Everything began coming together in my mind.

My husband and I did not live in that area of Colorado making this somewhat of a destination wedding for us. However, his parents were close and were able to start some work on the weekends a couple months prior to the wedding. Here is what they completed.

  • Rebuilt the south wall of the pavilion to protect against weather.

  • Sanded and re-sealed picnic tables and benches so that they would not splinter people or snag clothing.

  • Rewired the electrical so that our power needs could be met. I knew I wanted a few lighting fixtures, the DJ needed electricity for music/dancing, and we needed some working appliances kitchen area. My father-in-law was an electrician for many years which was SO helpful.

  • Deep cleaned the kitchen (it had been forgotten about for a long time) and my food safety course in college immediately came into mind.

My parents, two sisters, and in-laws showed up a week before the wedding ready to get to work on making this our dream wedding venue. We had a lot of work ahead of us. Below is a list of what needed to be accomplished. We divided and conquered.

  • Picked up sticks, raked, and mowed (when we arrived it was knee high grass everywhere).

  • Made a parking area with logs and chains that were left behind.

  • Dug holes for the large wedding sign post by the road and the wedding arch. Hung Tivoli lights to add ambiance. (Luckily all the posts were already there).

  • Lit walkway to porta-potties (being in the mountains it was very dark, so all lighting had to be considered, including lights in the porta-potties).

  • Fixed the hole in the aluminum roof to ensure we would be protected against rain.

  • Brought up an extra refrigerator to make sure that we keep food cold for 200 people.

  • Built a dancefloor.

  • Rented tent, tables and chairs for reception overflow and ceremony.

  • Sprayed for mosquitos (the venue was on the river and there were MANY bugs, definitely not falling into the “dreamy” category when you are covered in itchy bites. Luckily, the county took care of the cost of this since it was mitigating threat).

  • Rented barrels for aisle and ceremony decor.

  • Cleaned out broken glass in windows and replaced with lace curtains.

  • Cleaned out an outbuilding so that I could hide in there prior to the wedding. We put a rug in it and a mirror to make it feel more homey.

  • Made and hung a chandelier for the pavilion. Rewiring was important for this, but we also needed to add more light, the additional ambiance didn’t hurt either. This unique focal point also made the pavilion feel more elegant.

  • Built an arch for the ceremony.

  • The final step was to decorate with flowers, directional signs, specialty tables, linens, other signage, and handmade centerpieces.

Here are the final pictures of all of our hard work… I would say it all paid off! It was exactly what I imagined or maybe even better! My family was shocked at how far the venue had come! I certainly can’t take all the credit alone, as it took many people to pull this off. We ended up making so many improvements that the landowner did not charge us a fee for the space (others are now renting the venue for their special day!). I am so grateful to everyone who helped and hope to one day repay them. With a vision, some sweat and hard work, anything is possible, even a killer #DIYweddingvenue.

wedding photo credit #rachbeckwithphoto

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