BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Utah - Steve and Elva Orton’s love story, which began at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah in the summer of 1959, continues to persist through the ages — inspiring the beginning of another six decades later.
Officials with Bryce Canyon National Park recently shared details of a surprise proposal that happened at the park. But the backstory and a woman’s recreation of her grandparents’ photo made the engagement all the more touching.
In 1959, Elva first saw Steve while looking out the window of a Utah Parks Company employee bus headed to Bryce Canyon for the summer, one of the multiple national parks she worked at in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The park’s post detailed how the girl beside Elva happened to know Steve, so Elva wished aloud, "I want him to ask me to go on a date."
The date — and their first kiss — happened less than a week later: An invitation to a fireside program, according to the post. The young couple soon found all the romantic places of Bryce Canyon National Park.
"We could walk straight out in front of the Lodge to the rim. There was a great place to make out. So we did that quite frequently," Elva was quoted as saying. "What can I say? We were madly in love."
That summer, the couple knew that they wanted to get married, but Steve would first leave to go on a church mission in Australia. For the next two summers, Elva worked at the Grand Canyon as the program director and at the post office, saving up money to attend college.
"My future husband and I, we wrote letters. It was our dream to meet back here at Bryce after two years," she shared in an interview on the park’s website.
Finally, after two years — Steve returned and Elva caught the first bus back to the park.
"The ‘gearjammer’ driving the bus told everyone that she was returning to Bryce to meet her sweetheart, and ’as soon as we got close to the Lodge he started honking the horn and they were all clapping for me…and he was standing there,‘" Elva recounted.
The couple got married on Sept. 22, 1962, in Manti, Utah, going on to travel and start a family of their own — but always treasuring their memories at Bryce Canyon. After almost 55 years of marriage, Steve passed away in 2017.
Steve and Elva Orton, courtesy of the Orton family.
In a celebration of what would have been their 60th wedding anniversary, Elva — joined by many of her children and grandchildren — returned to Bryce Canyon for a weekend in September 2022. The family had dinner at the lodge and toured its deluxe cabins, as well as a linen cabin where past employees have covered the walls and rafters with signatures.
"To the amazement and tears of all present, Steve Orton’s signature from 1957 was discovered near the door," the post said.
Steve Orton's 1957 signature in the linen cabin. (Credit: National Parks Service)
The next morning, Elva’s granddaughter, Paige, got a surprise of her own.
Paige’s boyfriend Garrett drove through the night and surprised her with a sunrise marriage proposal along the canyon rim — to which she said "yes." In a sweet tribute to her grandparents, the newly engaged couple then recreated a photo taken of Elva and Steve at Bryce Point in June 1959.
Elva said their original photo happened on a Sunday when her parents had come to visit and believes her father took the photo because "we didn’t have a camera."
Steve is facing the camera and Elva has her back turned, both dressed in their Sunday best. In the recreated image, the young couple posed in the same way — even down to the hands and feet.
Elva and Steve, pictured in June 1959. (Credit: The Orton Family)
Paige was quoted as saying to her grandmother: "Growing up this has been the most romantic place in the world to me because of your story."
This story was reported from Cincinnati.