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The Colorful Spires of
The Paint Mines

Welcome to a strange land worlds apart from the towering mountains just to the west. I love a change of pace and am happy I can find it so close to home amid these colorful eroded sandstone formations. Now all I need is a Great Lake to plop itself nearby.

The Paint Mines Interpretive Park is fairly new with 750 acres near Calhan in the NE corner of El Paso County. The pink, purple and gold clays were used by American Indians for pottery and ceremonial paint. Some of their artifacts have been found in the area. Keep an eye out for the occasional red fox, antelope and and the funky squat short horned lizard.

Directions: The park is about 30 miles east of Colorado Springs. From Colorado Springs take Hwy 24 east to Calhan. Go through the town then go south (right) on Yoder Rd. a short way and follow the signs.

Length/Difficulty: 4 miles of easy trails with a few long gently sloping hills provide a decent workout. If you only want to see the rock formations, they are just under a mile from either parking lot, making them accessable for people of varying fitness levels.

There's plenty of room for parking, but we went in January. Not sure how full it gets in the summer. It's great that they built a rustic restroom.

Parking lot

On the map note the parking lots ("P") on the far left and bottom right. The colorful rock formations are by #6 between the parking lots. We traveled the whole trail starting from the lot west (left) of the park and headed east toward the plains, saving the best scenery for last.

Trail map

Not far from the parking lot, Greg is standing where one path heads to the right toward the rock pillars. We took the path to the left toward the prairie. The scenery was not that interesting in the beginning, but I still appreciated the open feeling of the expansive rolling hills. It was very peaceful out there, far from the noise of the city and the crowds. We only saw a couple of hikers on the far sections of the trail. Most people went directly to the colorful rocks.

Below you can see how soft the rock is where a large section of the wall has fallen. In this area the path followed a primarily dry river bed. We came across a few patches of snow and ice and noticed evidence of some creature's tunnels in the dirt.

Even in the middle of winter the grasses display a beautiful variation of warm hues. I loved watching the dynamic billowing cloud formations churning over the horizon.

The path was only partially thawed, so we could walk easily. I could imagine our boots getting covered in thick mud in the spring. Other parts of the path were quite sandy.

Above you can start to see the pillars. Below Greg is standing in the middle of the trail map where the two loops intersect. To the right and behind Greg the path leads to the rock formations nearby. We went left to continue exploring the whole path toward interesting white and pink mounds then to the plains again.

We soon came across two small areas of weathered rocks in hillsides. I was enjoying our detour. The winds weren't bad and the temperatures were in the 40's. I just wished there hadn't been any cloud cover which periodically blocked the sun, reducing the camera's ability to pick up color. But I was thrilled to finally be able to use my new 20mm fixed wide angle lens (f/2.8 by Sony) to capture a broader expanse of the landscape.

We climb our first real hill, then looked west and were delighted to spot Pikes Peak barely jutting up from the horizon.

One thing I love about the eastern plains of Colorado is the ability to see the clear demarcation of storms from far away. Below we spotted a snowstorm to the left of the photo.

The path left of Greg and going behind him leads to the southern parking lot. We went to the right which led us gradually down, then up a hill from which we had a spectacular view of the pillars looking west.

Looking west

As we looked to our left (south), I was surprised by the richness of the rocks' color, but the lighting wasn't the best for capturing it.

Looking west we were fascinated as we scaned the entire expanse of the complex rock formations. It is unfortunate that power lines were placed on a rim of the park, detracting from the natural beauty.

To the right we saw from a different angle the same white and pink mounds we had passed earlier.

We descended into the valley and took a couple of short paths into the formations where we were intrigued by the endless variety of shapes.

We wanted to keep exploring one detour after another because each one was unique, but we were getting hungry and running out of time, so we left planning to return in the summer when wildflowers dot the fields.

Having combed a part of South Dakota's Badlands, Paint Mines appear very small, but the deep color of the rocks and unique eroded shapes make this park a worthy destination for those living along the front range or touring the area.

The path leading back to the parking lot was smooth and easy.

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