Some people prefer large soirees with friends and food and gifts to celebrate monumental birthdays, and we have hosted a couple of those fun events over the years. Yet as Mark’s fortieth birthday loomed, I wanted something quieter and more restful, something that wouldn’t require us crafting a menu or rushing through home projects to enjoy. Neither of us has the energy for that sort of work in late May and early June when the school year has just ended; instead we tend more toward collapsing, preferably somewhere cool and within a day’s driving distance.
During a conversation last spring with my friend Ruth, she side-mentioned her family’s rental property in Colorado, and after hearing a few details, I was instantly smitten with the idea of Vista La Plata, their charming home on 70 acres just outside of Durango, Colorado. I booked a week for our family over Mark’s birthday weekend and began planning the trip in secret, telling Mark only the dates to block from his calendar. Tim and Kristen joined us since the house was large enough to accommodate our combined seven children. It was the perfect surprise gift, one that didn’t require an ounce of work from him until we loaded the car.
Vista La Plata is filled with light and flowing curtains, perfect for rising with the sunlight and coffee, and also for living with the windows open. Mark brought his hammock, which nestled perfectly on the front porch next to the rockers, and we all took turns during the week finding a little refuge there. After a long drive the first day, we were happy to plant ourselves on the property for the first day or so. The kids also enjoyed the freedom of exploring the property on their own, discovering different plants and trees and even a fort. A few times, we drove down the road to Mormon Reservoir, a quiet and hidden reserve to kayak, fish, or skip rocks after dinner. We often passed small herds of deer nibbling the grasses, unbothered by our passing.
The lowest level of the home belonged to the kids for the week, where they played board games and enjoyed rest and art time. My older boys enjoyed their cave-like sleeping quarters (their favorite sleeping arrangement) and having a cool place to tuck away when the day felt hot and tired. Although there are so many family activities in Durango area, we took the week slow, keeping with the spirit of rest. We inadvertently spent two afternoons at the Durango Mountain Resort, where we let each of the kids pick one ticket activity. The boys opted to zip-line, while the girls bungee-jumped (feet down on a trampoline), and afterward Mark and I hiked alone with our boys, while Kristen and Tim took the other kids home for rest. On this afternoon, we discovered half of a snow patrol sled and carried it to a large patch of snow for play.
On another other day, we all took the chairlift to the top of the mountain and ate lunch together, and afterward Mark and I took all of the older children hiking. Olive and Shepherd found flags along the way and carried them with us, and later when we crossed paths with another family, they asked if we were a mountain-guided school. We laughed, and then I thought how lovely that would be if this were our daily school.
We spent Saturday in downtown Durango at the farmers market, admiring handmade goods and tasting yummy foods. The kids walked away with balloon animals, and Olive’s popped on the long straw-like grasses within two minutes. There was a car show that day as well, which we wandered through and then waded in the icy cold Animas river. For lunch, we ate on the patio at Carver Brewing Co. and then meandered through Old Colorado Vintage and of course into Cream Bean Berry for gelato and affogatos (espresso poured over vanilla gelato).
A perk of having two sets of adults on a family vacation is swapping date nights, which we did. Mark and I strolled the downtown area for a bit and then went to dinner at the Cypress Cafe, which was a treat, especially sitting on the patio at dusk. I ordered salmon wrapped in grape leaves and Letters to Elliot to drink and have been attempting to re-create it ever since.
Mark and I recently found a postcard from the 1950s in an antique store, where someone wrote to a friend, “we made the trip and only had to change our tires once!” Sometimes I forget how far travel has come in such a short period of time, that families regularly travel internationally, let alone a few states away in a car. I’m grateful for the ways travel broadens our scope of life and experience, how it teaches us patience and the power of improvisation. On the day of our arrival, just an hour from the house, Mark discovered a nail in two of our tires. Tim shuttled Kristen and myself to the house, helped unload, and then returned to pick up Mark and my boys. It was the longest day, but still worth it for the week that came after it. Happy birthday, my dearest.
For more images of our travels: HERE
For more ideas and activities around Vista La Plata: HERE