Surprise…Colorado style!

Isn’t it fun to be part of a surprise? I so enjoy seeing the look of shock and then joy on a loved one’s face when the pieces fall into place for them! I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of many fun surprises. A favorite was the time I drove 8 ½ hours to surprise my little brother for his 21st birthday. My folks were also visiting him, and they took him to dinner. Unbeknownst to Matt, I was in the restaurant bar that night. I sent a drink to the table, telling the waitress to say it was from “the blonde at the bar.” When he came around the corner to reveal the mysterious blonde woman, there I sat. HA! Cruel? Maybe a tad. I’m sure he was hoping for a hot chick who wasn’t related to him, but I took him out for his birthday and we laughed about it over cocktails. The best part of this surprise? He fell for the exact same line in the exact same restaurant a few months later when I surprised him again for his college graduation!

When my parents visited around Easter this year, my mom and I got to talking about summer schedules. When I learned that she’d planned to camp with my dad right around his birthday, the rusty surprise wheels in my head started to turn. What if John, Cholula, and I joined for the camping trip? And what if we didn’t tell my dad?? Somehow, we kept the plan quiet for over 4 months. Last week, we hooked up a stocked Betty to the new truck and made tracks for Durango. (I may or may not have made my patient husband sing along to John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” on the way.)

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Truly, the surprise itself was simply our appearance on Friday night. The real fun would be had after our presence was common knowledge! After a rainy drive through the desert, we pulled up in front of my folks’ house and honked the horn a few times. My dad hadn’t seen the new truck yet, so he wasn’t sure who the Yahoo in his driveway was until I opened my door and Cholula tumbled out. His eyes grew wide, his hands went in the air, and he gave a “Woop!” Surprise! We got him! Let the fun begin. We laughed over fajitas and planned out the next few days together.

Saturday (aka The Big Day), we joined old friends for a birthday breakfast before heading off on a drive to Vallecito Lake. The weather wasn’t cooperating for the day on the boat we’d hoped for, but we had fun anyway, munching delicious cookies from Durango’s best bakery (Bread) on the drive.

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The afternoon was spent prepping for camping, playing card games, enjoying my folks’ beautiful yard, and napping. When it comes to relaxing and disconnecting from the stress of work and life in general, Mom’s house is the place to be. That night, we went on a double date to the Mahogany Grille and splurged on an amazing steak dinner for the birthday boy. 77 years of life? I’ll cheers to that! I hope he made a good wish.

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After church on Sunday, my folks headed up the hill to their favorite nearby campground on Haviland Lake. We’ve been enjoying the area for years! I helped them set up camp, checked out the scene, and left them to it- we’d join them the next morning with Betty. John returned from an epic, storm-filled bike ride and the two of us joined dear old friends for dinner out in town. You know it’s a good time when the camera is forgotten in my purse!

John and I spent Monday morning drying out his soaked gear, airing out the old Coleman sleeping bag I slept under as a child (we’d forgotten ours!), and packing up for our two nights on the lake. We rolled into camp around lunchtime, just in time to see my dad walk up from the lake with a stringer full of rainbow trout (which Cholula attempted to bury). We had a tasty lunch, set Betty up, and settled in for ultimate relaxation. We tested out our new hammock and it might be the best camping purchase we’ve made!

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For the next couple of days, we did whatever struck our fancy. We paddle-boarded around the lake, sometimes with a fishing pole. We fished off the shore. We took the little boat around the lake and fished some more.

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As always, we ate well: French toast and bacon, roast and veggies cooked in coals in the Dutch oven, fresh caught trout-topped crackers, spicy camp chili and jalapeño cornbread, homemade cookies.

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When it rained, there were competitive card games, including a new favorite called The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (so, so ugly). There was plenty of downtime to read or rest or knit or chat. We took turns napping in the hammock, swaying in the breeze over the lake with the pines above. Heaven.

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We drove home on Wednesday morning, a “to-go” bag of delicious Mom-made breakfast burritos in tow. The only thing missing over the weekend was my brother! John and I spent a lot of the trip home talking about how much fun we’d had, and reminiscing about all of the other incredible camping trips we’ve experienced together. This is how I grew up. This is how my parents recharged from busy schedules and hectic city life in LA. When I was a child, we camped once a month, and we did the same things this weekend as we did back then- fished, boated, read, napped, played games, laughed, connected with each other in nature. If I had my choice of the very best way to celebrate my dad’s birthday with him, this would be it- camping as a family. How lucky am I to have a husband who loves it, too? To have such a strong family bond, thanks in part to times like these? To still be making these types of memories with my family? To be making the same types of memories with John? To be able cheers my father as he enters year #78?

“Lucky” doesn’t describe it.


Happy birthday, Pops!

P.S. I caught more fish than John.

Bit by the travel bug? See more of our adventures- near and far- on the Travel Bliss page!


  1. Great Captures – makes me want to escape to the Great Outdoors and sleep under the stars! Your pup can bliss out anywhere even in the bottom of a boat – impressive 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy

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