August 11, 2008

Happy Trails the Paint Mines


Hidden in a grassy basin on the eastern plains, the Paint Mines is a trove of whimsical hoodoos made from bright, sherbetcolored stone. For generations, this geologic oddity on the plains has drawn people to it. Archaeological evidence suggests that paleolithic hunters camped in the area during thousands of years, using the regional clay to make crude cooking vessels. In modern times, it has been an engaging day trip for city dwellers. Trails created in the past few years make this longtime favorite spot easier to enjoy. This time of year, go near dusk and listen to the nighthawks calling high overhead.

To get there

Take U.S. Highway 24 east of Colorado Springs about 35 miles to Calhan. On the east side of the small town, turn south on Yoder Street. Drive 0.6 miles. Turn east on Paint Mine Road. Follow the road 1.5 miles, past a sharp turn to a trailhead on the right. For more direct access to the Paint Mines formations, continue south 1.7 miles, veering left at the next fork.

The hike

The four miles of trails in this 750-acre county park make a rough figure eight. The colored rock spires that give the park its name lie close to the intersection of the eight, so any path will lead you there. The trails pass through wide open shortgrass prairie. There is no shade, making this hike ideal for mild, sunny winter days, and a place best visited early or late in the day during summer. The Paint Mines are particularly pleasant at dusk when nighthawks call from high above. Most of the paths meander through the prairie, where wild roses bloom in sandy bottoms and the complementary hues of blue stem grass and spiky yucca bristle on the hills. Look for coyotes and pronghorn. The best rock formations are in the southwest spur of the park. The Paint Mines are formed from the Dawson Arkose, a sedimentary rock formation laid down about 55 million years ago. The bright colors are clays spiked with oxidized iron. The same rock shows up in the white bluffs of Palmer Park. Wander, explore, but don't climb on the delicate formations.


Open dawn to dusk. No camping, bikes, dogs or horses. Stay off formations.


A scale of one to four boots. One is easiest, with little elevation gain, and it is at a reasonable altitude. Four is most difficult, with severe elevation gain, difficult terrain or extreme length or altitude.

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