07/11/2002 at 01:00 AM EDT
Her friends thought they were gathering for a late-night drink. Some would probably have preferred to just hit the hay. After all, July 3 had already been a full day: In the past 24 hours 60 or so family members and close pals, answering an invitation to "celebrate Independence Day," had boarded planes in Manhattan, Atlanta and L.A., en route to Julia Roberts's 82-acre ranch in Taos, N.Mex. In 86Â° heat they had passed hours chatting by the pool, playing football and basketball and eating homemade turkey Roberts had cooked up that afternoon. When, come nightfall, some mentioned going to sleep, Roberts simply urged them to "hang around," says a pal.
By midnight it was an expectant bunch (some holding sleepy toddlers) who sank into an assortment of lawn chairs arranged in a semicircle outside the 19th-century morada -- a small adobe religious meeting house -- on her property. The sight of flickering candles and Chinese lanterns signaled something was up. But not until Roberts and her beau, Danny Moder, stepped under an arch made from white and pink silk sheaths and into a circle of scattered red, white and pink rose petals did most guests understand what exactly was about to happen.
As the realization spread, "there was a cheer, a sort of wave of cheers that echoed against the mountains," says one close friend. "Danny got down on one knee and said, 'In front of everyone we love, I want to know, will you marry me?' And Julia grabbed her heart and said, 'Yes, yes, yes.' And all the guests were saying 'Yes, yes, yes' along with her. The canopy was billowing. It was such a magical, intimate gathering, it felt like we were eavesdropping, like we were invited into someone's secret."
And so with nary a paparazzo in sight, Hollywood's Bachelorette No. 1 decided once again to take on marriage -- and this time she wore shoes. But nine years after the barefoot 25-year-old stunned fans with her wedding to country singer Lyle Lovett, flat sandals were the bride's only nod to formality. Let pals Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt have their 50,000 flowers, four bands and fireworks. The 20-minute ceremony between the Oscar-winning Roberts, 34, and L.A. cameraman Moder, 33 -- officiated by Roberts's longtime friend and lawyer Barry Hirsch -- included no flower girls, no bridesmaids, no groomsmen and no celebrity guests. Just the outline of the 13,000-ft. Sangre de Cristo Mountains against the star-filled sky. And Roberts, in a pale pink cotton halter dress embroidered with pearls and antique beads and hand-painted with flowers, and Moder, in a red ruffled shirt and tan pants, exchanging simple handwritten vows.