The Garden of Heaven was a name suggested for a valley between Glacier National Park’s Morning Eagle Falls and Lake Josephine by naturalist Morton J. Elrod in 1924.
Elrod, who wrote the park’s NPS-approved hiking handbook called Elrod’s Guide and Book of Information of Glacier National Park described the Garden of Heaven as follows:
“The open narrow valley along Cataract creek for perhaps two miles below Morning Eagle Falls, beginning where the trail comes out into the open, is a very beautiful flower garden in July and August. At the foot of the towering Garden Wall, flanked on all sides but one by protective mountains, the writer has called it and wishes others might call it, ‘The Garden of Heaven.’ By wandering away from the trail and examining the mossy banks of the meandering streams, the fully beauty of the wonderful garden will be understood.”
Elrod’s guide was published in 1924 and revised in 1930. Unfortunately, the name for this valley on the trail to Piegan Pass didn’t make it into park naturalist George C. Ruhle’s Guide to Glacier National Park when it replaced the Elrod guide as the official park trail handbook in 1949.
Instrumental in forming the park’s ranger naturalist program, Elrod and Ruhle worked together. So, it’s probable that Ruhle was well aware of Elrod’s name for the valley. In fact, much of the information in the Ruhle guidebook–which went through three editions–closely approximated Elrod’s facts and descriptions.
I have found no other park reference to the Garden of Heaven other than in Jack Holterman’s encyclopedic 1985 Place Names of Glacier/Waterton National Parks, on which I worked as an editorial assistant at the Glacier Natural History Association. I have never found the name on a map or mentioned in any other park trail guide.
Elrod’s description is apt. The trail above Lake Josephine between Mt. Gould and Mt. Allen is a wonderful spot. The falls itself is a little over five miles from Many Glacier Hotel. Hikers can “cheat” on the walk by taking the Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine launches.
The rare, long out-of-print park guidebook by a prolific writer and photographer is the origin for the title of my 2010 novel Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey. (Some readers have thought that took the title from the 14th-century poet Hafiz’s poem by that name.)
If anyone ever finds a postcard, guidebook, or trail map that refers to the park valley by this old name, I would appreciate hearing about it.
When Glacier National Park, Montana, celebrated its centennial last year, 2.2 million visitors came to the park, setting a new attendance record. While Amtrak’s Empire Builder serves the park, most of today’s visitors arrived by plane and automobile.
The park’s hotels and early infrastructure were developed by James J. Hill’s Great Northern Railway (GN), now a part of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (see downloadable history), as a means of increasing passenger rail traffic on the route between Minneapolis and Seattle. The route, which went through North Dakota, Montana and Idaho, is the northernmost transcontinental railroad in the United States. Hill and his railroad prided themselves in the fact that, unlike other transcontinental railroads, GN used no federal land grants to built the track.
Before Amtrak took over most U.S. intercity passenger rail service in 1971, Great Northern delivered visitors to East Glacier and West Glacier via many named trains over the years, the last of which were its premier Empire Builder and the Western Star. Considered a secondary passenger train, the Western Star (train #27) left Minneapolis daily for the west coast, arriving in East Glacier before breakfast the following day. When Amtrak took over passenger service on the route in 1971, it kept the Empire Builder and discontinued the Western Star which had been in operation since 1951.
Carol Guthrie’s All Aboard for Glacier National Park (2004) captures the heady days of passenger rail travel and the park. Even though the trains are mostly gone, you can still see the Great Northern Railway’s influence throughout the park, especially in the hotels managed by Glacier Park, Inc. (The company was owned by the railroad until 1960.)
When I worked as a bellman at the park’s Many Glacier Hotel in the 1960s, I traveled from my home in Florida to the park by rail, and that included the Western Star. The railroad still offered hotel employees reduced-fare tickets even though most railroads’ passenger trains were, by then, operating at a loss. Since the train ride was part of my Glacier National Park experience, I couldn’t help but include the Great Northern Railway and the Western Star in my novel Garden of Heaven. (Now out of print.)
Garden of Heaven Excerpt
In the novel, my main character David Ward gets to do what I always wanted to do: run the Western Star for a few miles just east of Glacier National Park:
“Climb up, Mr. Ward, it’s only 24 miles, and I’ll be close by.”
“You run like a god damned freight engineer,” said Jim as he lit another cigarette, “and there will be hell to pay.”
“I won’t spill a drop of coffee,” said David.
They followed him up into the cab. Jim slouched in the fireman’s seat with his newspaper and Big Ed stood by silently while David sat, noted the positions of the brake handles and the needles on air gauges, then looked out the window at the track ahead of them. There was seldom any rust on these rails lying easy on the fine, well-drained roadbed, and now as the day wound down, the tracks were becoming a true hi-line into night. Ahead, in the middle distance, two tall trees stood equidistant from the center of track—the right bathed in full sun, the left now in shade—a gate to the future, all aboard for Blackfoot, Sundance, Cutbank, Shelby, and points east with connections to RTC Great Lakes and Vietnam. He stepped on the dead man’s pedal and looked back at Ed and said he was ready.
“It’s 5:12 and we are clear to proceed,” Ed said. “You won’t need the transition lever, go easy out of here and then one day tell your grandkids you ran the Western Star.” Ed punctuated the sentiment with two loud blasts of the horn.
He put the reverser lever in forward, pushed the throttle into notch 1 and felt the engines load as he carefully feathered off the independent brake.
“Good,” said Jim. “Big Ed didn’t leave any slack in the train.”
“Damn sure didn’t,” said Ed. “I care very deeply about those Pullman passengers and their eagle eyes conductor back there.”
David eased the throttle out a notch at a time, slowly, so far so good, he hadn’t jostled anybody, felt the automatic transition as they passed between the two trees and throttled back to avoid any wheel slip, then began easing the throttle forward again until they reached track speed.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure woman’s Cat” and “The Sun Singer.” “The Sun Singer” is set in Glacier National Park.
“Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey” is the story of a man’s spiritual journey through the mountains of Pakistan, the swamps of North Florida, the beaches of Hawaii, the waters of the South China Sea and the ivy-covered halls of an Illinois college as he attempts to sort out the shattered puzzle of his life.
In this excerpt, David Ward’s significant other, a woman well-practiced in the old Huna magic of Hawai’i, is ready to discuss the clues, if any, she found in his journals about who has been trying to kill him.
David sits on a fence post, a comfortable, familiar spot, and looks across the creek to the house. The creek is the same; the house has shrunk with time. Too perfectly symmetrical when it was new, the structure’s roofline, doors and walls have aged randomly and grown more natural into the place.
Complacent while Siobhan keeps the Komondor puppy inside, the remaining Dominique chickens peck at the hard path between the kitchen door and the clothes line. The path turns west into a gravel road that leads to an old house lying down in weeds and ruin where his grandparents lived until one became too frail and the other became too psychotic to be left alone, where they said that his mother was born on a cold January night in 1914, where lies and truths were sown and bore hybrid fruit.
Along the road between the houses, grey sheds linked by fences lean into the earth. Dry and empty, like old nooks and crannies and secret places, they were always the first full focus of spring–humid and rich as sea fog, dripping with the juices of birth and new life. Jayee’s timing was as precise as nature allowed. Today he would be moving the last of the lambs from the jugs to the bunch pen if he was on schedule, or the first of them if nature wasn’t.
From this vantage point, David sees the pros and cons of dreams; he views his visions from the other side, and—remembering everything that has happened between then and now and then and now and then and now—must decide how much of history is too broke to fix. Siobhan refuses to tell him who tried to kill him and why because he’s not ready to hear it, much less re-live it; Sikimí will take them back to the scene of the crime soon enough.
She steps out the back door carrying old notebooks, an envelope labeled remnants, and grandmother’s blue-on-white eight-pointed star quilt. The door slams, stirring memories. She smiles and her pony tail dances when she nods at the circle of box elders where she heads at a brisk walk.
In her khaki cargo shorts and light blue sleeveless crew shirt, she radiates a well-toned athletic health that sings of perfectly managed energy conceived in Aries fire and transformed into infinite zest down through her well-developed shoulders and sun-browned legs. Siobhan is Wind’s daughter. Grandmother would love her for that alone. It’s a matter of breath control, he thinks. When Siobhan is open to the world, she inhales those she meets into her presence, pulling them in with her smoky eyes and the fluid caresses of her hands. At such times, she drags out the first syllable of her name in a shhhhhhhhhh of light breezes. David heard that endearing shhhhhhhhhh when she ran into him like a pro-football lineman on the day they met. When Siobhan is closed to the world, she exhales those she meets outward beyond the reach of her hands. At such times, when there is no still escape from her eyes, she clips off the first syllable of her name into a harsh shh that shushes even the most determined people into quiet.
She flips the quilt out into an even rectangle and sits in the centre of it surrounded by Blue Horses and Silver Bears, knowing Katoya stood on that very spot in the tall bluebunch wheatgrass 33 years ago and told him the secret of the universe before they watched the stars rise into the sky. When he stops at the northern boundary of the eight-pointed starry night lying across the grass, Siobhan looks up from an open composition book as though she’s surprised, but pleased, to see him there.
–I’ve finished reading almost all your journals.
As he takes off his boots, he’s enveloped by the scent of her lavender bath soap. He shrugs. What is there to say? He feels naked in spite of her smile which is so unwaveringly natural it seems to be borne up out of the grass.
–You know almost everything, then, and you’re free to run for the hills, he says.
Siobhan frowns and looks at him with her eyebrows raised about as high as she can get them. She waves an older Blue Horse in his face.
–Talk like that chased Anne Hill away, didn’t it?
–It seemed a logical thing to say at the time.
–How logical does it seem now? she asks.
He sits next to her and studies her face while she watches the noisy water of the creek bunching up at the base of the limestone bedrock.
–Hell, I was looking for reassurance.
She turned toward him now and her breath was warm and sweet on his face.
–No need and you know it, she says and kisses him. When he starts to speak, to say some inane self-deprecating thing, she kisses him again. Shhhhhhhhhh, she whispers, Anne is Anne, Siobhan is Siobhan, and you and I are the yin and the yang fitting precisely together.
She hugs him, wrapping him snugly in lavender.
–I see what you mean, he tells her. This hug could easily lead to more, much more, but I think you have things to say.