Braving the Rainbow Rocks and Raging Rapids of Glacier National Park

A few years ago, I was scrolling through Pinterest when I came upon this picture, a gorgeous alpine lake with rainbow pebbles.

I smiled at it for a long time, imagining myself basking in the glory of rainbow pebbles like a dragon in her hoard. Then I did a bit of research and was greatly disappointed. First of all, the name of this gorgeous, elegant expanse of water is Lake MacDonald. Second of all, it is located in Montana. I sighed resignedly, knowing that I would probably never visit it, because my ignorant self thought: Montana? Pffft, who goes to Montana, of all places, on vacation?

A few weeks ago I found myself in Montana, on vacation. We had planned a trip out of the country, but a certain virus was on a trip around the world, so we could only travel within US borders. Lake MacDonald, located in Glacier National Park, was a perfect destination.

As Papa pulled into the first available overlook, I bolted out of the car and raced to the edge of the guardrail. It was a fine day and the serene surface of the lake reflected the blue skies and fluffy white clouds perfectly.

Lake MacDonald | The Voyaging Storyteller

But what I was really looking for were the rainbow pebbles, and I couldn’t see the shore very clearly.

I climbed over the guardrail and carefully made my way down the rocky cliff. Once on the shore, my feet crunched on colorful stones, yellows and pale blues and reds. I knew the image from Pinterest I had seen was photoshopped, but certainly not so much that it changed the actual shape and texture of the rocks. There had to be another spot on the lake with different pebbles.

But while I was there, I enjoyed the larger, more golden stones.

The first time I saw a swimming bee. It was literally paddling.

As the rest of my family followed, a bright turquoise color caught my eye and I spotted a beautiful stone a bit farther out in the crystal clear water. Balancing precariously with one foot on the shore and the other on a boulder which jutted out of the water, I leaned down to grab the turquoise stone. The water was icy cold and I gasped, but more from a delighted surprise than discomfort.

I reached down, farther, farther. My arm felt numb from the cold but I was so close. Just before I could brush the surface of the rock my foot slipped and I fell into the water with a loud splash. My socked and booted foot was instantly soaked with freezing water. As I jumped back onto shore, I knew my sock and boot would be wet on all the other hikes planned for the rest of the day.

I did the natural thing. I laughed.

There was something about the fresh air making my skin feel snappy and alive, something about the cold shocking life into my limbs, something about gingerly walking around barefoot, that made every little thing seem like an exciting adventure. The dazed cobwebs of my mind, exhausted from a year of hard work and studying, began to be blown away.

We hopped back in the car and drove on, forested mountain to our right and the glistening lake to our left. We pulled into a large pull-out with several parking spaces that looked promising. And once I broke through the trees and stepped onto the pebbly shore, I grinned broadly.

“Now this is more like it.”

Thousands of pebbles crunched underneath my feet, and as I stepped up to the lapping water, they glistened in vibrant colors, stretching further out into the lake beyond my range of vision. Of course they were not as surreal as the obviously photo-shopped picture, but they were still incredibly stunning in person. (In the interest of honesty and authenticity, I’ve made an effort to capture photos as realistically as possible with minimal editing. Everything was so beautiful it didn’t really need to be edited.)

I tore off my boots and socks and stepped into the water. Besides the cold, I quickly realized that pebbles hurt to walk on, especially when they stick up into the arch of your foot. Gasping, I felt just like the mermaid from the fairy tale walking on land, every step incredibly painful.

But the irresistibly sparkling pebbles drew me on. I wandered up and down the shore, walking gingerly and often painfully but always gazing admiringly at the pebbles and lake and mountains. My inner dwarf and dragon were awakened, I was in the heights of delight, and there was no going back.

Between Micah and I, we filled up a small bag with pebbles to take home with us. I personally wanted to take the whole lake home, and maybe a mountain or two, but I satisfied myself with that bag. Tugging on my wet sock and shoving it into my wet boot, we departed that lovely lakeside shore to continue on our adventure.

Everywhere we hiked and drove, in every little stream and creek, the rainbow rocks could be found. I wondered how they got their color, where they came from. Later on I learned that the color comes from the presence or absence of iron and its oxidation. Red rocks are formed with more oxygen, while greener rocks are formed with less oxygen – less opportunities for oxidation.

As for where they come from, on one hike we took, way up in the mountains, I saw slopes of huge, jagged stones, all of them colored just like the pebbles.

Turns out when the glaciers of the park came, they chipped off those stones from the mountains. The stones were then washed away by the rivers into the lakes, and water erosion polished them down into smooth pebbles.

Well, some of them. Sometimes they were large, smooth stones. Other times they were small and rough. Most of the time they hurt to walk on. But did that ever stop me? Did I ever resist the call of the streams and lakes and rivers?

Nope. I’m terribly weak that way.

One day, while we were driving through a more remote area of the park, I caught a glimpse of rushing rapids tumbling into a broad river. It looked so delicious and there was such a large convenient parking lot that Papa indulgently parked.

I gazed at the rapids and melted in awe. Water tumbling over and around giant, sturdy boulders that were just begging to be climbed on. Gushing, churning currents and swirling eddies, spilling over each other on their rush to join the larger river. Sunlight sparkling on the surface, making the colored rocks underneath gleam. Everywhere I looked, as if I had just stepped into a fairy tale.

This, Micah and I decided, was where we were going to have lunch.

Mama agreed, with a more refined plan.

“We’re right next to the parking lot here,” she pointed out. “And there’s no shade on this side. We have to cross here and go over there.”

We followed her finger and directions to a spot beyond the rapids, way out along the river, and beyond a bend to a nice shady spot in the distance. In the picture above, the spot is at the upper right hand quadrant. It was quite far away, especially since we would have to carry our lunch and picnic blankets. But that wouldn’t stop us.

We slid down the crumbly rocks to the spot where the rapids’ met the river. From that point, there would be less swiftly flowing water to cross. I took off my boots and tied them on either side of my backpack, leaving them dangling. Five seconds in the water and my feet were already going numb, but glancing up and seeing Micah and Mama already on the other side, I knew I could do it.

I waded in deeper, rolling up my pants the further I went. The water pounded onto me from my left and I had never been so numb from cold. The rocks underneath my feet were extremely slippery, but by grabbing onto the large boulders and taking small, firmly planted steps, I managed not to get swept away. At the deepest, the water rose to a bit over knee level, chilling my legs and rendering me unable to feel my toes. By the time I heaved myself onto the other shore, they were throbbing from the cold, but I felt triumphant. I had crossed a freezing cold rapid and I felt like a character in a novel.

Looking back…

After putting my boots back on, we clambered up a small rocky slope to a path that Micah found cutting along a hill. The path made it so much easier than the alternative, climbing around boulders and algae covered rocks in the cold water below. A brief walk later, we stepped onto the rocky beach that we had seen earlier and set up the blankets for lunch.

It was a simple meal of bread and ham, but we feasted like kings and queens in the Great Hall of Creation, relaxing in the sun with a beautiful emerald and turquoise river and pine-crested cliffs before us.

After lunch, with my feet quite warm and dry, Micah and I plunged back in. We found a nice little sandy area, quite a relief on our feet, and as we gazed at the lovely rocks, we got it into our heads to build something with them. What, exactly, we did not yet know, but we went around gathering rocks of all sorts of colors and putting them into little piles. Turquoise, violet, indigo, yellow, red, and sky blue. Then we decided to build an underwater temple inspired by Native Americans.

It was unbelievably fun, scuttling around hunting for the perfect rocks with the right shade, and organizing them for our temple. The longer we stayed, the less I felt the cold and the more my feet seemed to harden.

I just realized I have mentioned my feet in this post a ridiculous number of times. 😛

Finally, after several modifications and finishing touches, we ended up with this masterpiece:

As we admired it, we both agreed that it was no longer an underwater temple. The longer I looked, the more story strands in my head started swirling and spinning. There was a history to this monument, I was sure. A tale behind its origin, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it yet. What do you think the story is?

Later on, while Mama and Papa continued on the path into the forest to see if it looped around, Micah and I plunged back into the rapids.

Much more comfortable now, we clambered on the rocks, waded through the water, stepped swiftly on top of the boulders. We’d been doing the same thing for the past few days but it never got boring. Every swirl of water that flowed past us was different, every rock and boulder. God’s natural playground.

On our last day in Glacier National Park, we went back to the shore of Lake MacDonald, our favorite spot, and we just relaxed. There was no obligation, nowhere to rush to, no exams to take, no homework to worry about, no classes to attend, nothing. We laid on the rocks, gazed at the beauty, read, played cards, and enjoyed each other’s company.

And I realized that each pebble, each curl of the waves, each fluttering leaf, each bubbling cloud, was a personal gift to humankind from our Creator, who loves us so much He made this beautiful world to be our home.

Even — or daresay I say especially — Montana.

4 thoughts on “Braving the Rainbow Rocks and Raging Rapids of Glacier National Park

    1. Elisha, your descriptive language made me feel as if I was there with you. Thank you for letting me in this adventure with you. Love you so very much!!! mimi

      Liked by 1 person

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