a week out west

On Monday, we got home from spending some time out west in Wyoming and Montana.  It was a trip that has been planned since last winter.  But I didn’t plan it…  my wife did.

This past February, with snow on the ground outside her window at the little house by the Gaither pond in Indiana, Joey looked at the beautiful view from her bedside, and remembered another view that she loved.  And then with her three sisters gathered around her, Joey told stories about our trips out west to the Big Sky Country.  She showed them pictures we had taken during some of the adventures our family has had out there over the years.  And then she asked me to find a way to take her three sisters and their families out west for the first time this summer.

Most of them had never been farther west than Illinois and Joey wanted them to experience some of the breathtaking beauty that she and I have been blessed to experience many times over the years.  For their eyes to see the beautiful things that her eyes had seen.

Montana 2016 trip-5729
Montana 2016 trip-5729

Joey and I spent our honeymoon in Montana in 2002 and fell in love with the mountains and the old-west history that runs deep through the land and streams out there.  We’ve made many family trips there since and our middle daughter Hopie even spent three summers working on a ranch in Dubois.

Fortunately, we have some wonderful friends who own a big cabin in Red Lodge, Montana and when I told them about Joey’s wish, they generously offered to let us all come stay at their place…

So two weeks ago, my three sister-in-laws – Jody, Julie and Jessie – loaded up their minivans and trucks and headed west, and the girls and I hopped on an airplane and met up with them in Jackson Hole, Wyoming to spend a few days together before we all drove on to Red Lodge.  Jackson’s such a beautiful western town and there’s so many things to do and see.  We walked through the “antler arches” in the town square and ate wonderful meals and saw the western play “Cat Ballou” at the Jackson Hole Playhouse and went to a chuckwagon dinner and show that our friends the Bar J Wranglers host nightly at their ranch just outside of town…

Montana 2016 trip-8974
Montana 2016 trip-8974

The girls and I and Heidi’s boyfriend Dillon all stayed at Spring Creek Ranch.

Montana 2016 trip-8848
Montana 2016 trip-8848

It was always one of Joey’s favorite places in Jackson.  High on a hilltop, with a stunning view overlooking a beautiful valley below…

Montana 2016 trip-5447
Montana 2016 trip-5447

On Saturday, we all took our time driving north through Yellowstone…

Montana 2016 trip-2
Montana 2016 trip-2

And finally settled into the cabin in Red Lodge.  Joey’s sisters soon saw that the view from the back deck was just as beautiful as Joey had described it…

Montana 2016 trip-9054
Montana 2016 trip-9054

And while all the grown-ups put all the bags away, a few of the little ones jumped in the hot tub…

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Montana 2016 trip-9038

And I took Indy outside to see the wildflowers growing all around the cabin…

Montana 2016 trip-0147
Montana 2016 trip-0147

On Monday… Red Lodge had the neatest 4th of July parade right down the middle of main street.  And over the next few days, we went to the rodeo, the Buffalo Bill Cody museum, on long walks, fly fishing and horseback riding… and on the last night, we even went to a pasture party where a wonderful all-brother western band called the ‘High Country Cowboys’ performed.  It was just like a scene out of a movie.   Luckily, I took my camera along and put together a few highlights from the trip (along with Joey singing one of my favorite songs that we recorded together), so we could always have a way to remember these moments…

For all the fun we had… the trip was hard on me.  Hard on us all actually.  We all wished that Joey was there with us.  At the cabin, I would watch Joey’s sisters all playing with their kids and I it broke my heart to know that Joey couldn’t be there to play with Indiana too.  And I know that it hurt her sisters too.  But still, we all carried Joey’s memory with us on every mountain we drove up and every trail we walked down.

Montana 2016 trip-2-6
Montana 2016 trip-2-6

Our dear friends Larry and Luann Black, who own the cabin, have a big round table in the main dining room that seats about twelve people… and they have the neatest tradition of having folks who’ve stayed at the cabin, carve their names into the table before they leave.  There must be hundreds of names etched in that wood…

Montana 2016 trip-3
Montana 2016 trip-3

I added Indiana’s name to where Joey and I and our older girls had signed the table the first time in 2011, and all three of Joey’s sisters and their families carved their names before they packed up their things and headed back to Indiana…

Montana 2016 trip-0193
Montana 2016 trip-0193

Like the names and dates that are etched in that table, this trip will be forever etched in each of our hearts.  It had been a week to remember – to remember Joey, and smile – because we all knew that somewhere up there, my sweet wife was smiling too…

Watching her wish for her sisters come true.

Montana 2016 trip-2-9
Montana 2016 trip-2-9

I’d like to thank Larry and Luann for opening their beautiful home to us and helping to make this trip happen.  Larry has been a wonderful friend and mentor to me over the years and it was at that very cabin that Joey and I, along with Larry and Luann, made plans to make our first television program from our farm, back in 2011.  Something that has gone on to change our lives, many times over.  But my favorite thing about Larry and his sweet bride are their generous hearts.  They believe that the blessings they receive from God are a gift, and they use those blessings to bless others every chance they get.

From Joey’s family and ours… thank you Larry.  You’re an inspiration to me and so many others.  We love you and your beautiful family so much.

Montana 2016 trip-5880
Montana 2016 trip-5880