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On Walkabout Travelog: Christmas at Paint Mines Interpretive Park

Basic Information

  • Name: Paint Mines Interpretive Park Trail
  • Where: Calhan, Colorado
  • Distance: 3.35 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy (243 feet of elevation gain)
  • More Information: El Paso County website

GPS Map of the Trail:

Narrative

A place in Colorado Springs that is not often visited by locals, but provides quite an interesting contrast to the mountains and trees that border the city is Paint Mines Interpretive Park located out on the Great Plains to the east of the city.  The park is easy to find by traveling 30 minutes east of Colorado Springs on Highway 24 to Calhan, Colorado.  While driving through the small village of Calhan a sign pointing the direction to Paint Mines is visible on the eastern end of the city.  The right hand turn off of Highway 24 eventually leads to a dirt road that travels the short distance to the park:


View Larger Map

I have previously posted pictures here of what the mostly featureless plains to the east of Colorado Springs is like, but Paint Mines is actually quite interesting because even though it is located out in the prairie it does have rolling hills with interesting rock formations to look at.  My family and I drove over to Paint Mines after a winter storm had dropped some snow on the city on Christmas Eve.  The previous year we spent Christmas walking around the Garden of the Gods and for this last Christmas we decided to go walking over at Paint Mines.

I had hoped to try out my snowshoes on the trail if there was enough snow.  As it turned out there wasn’t enough snow on the trail to warrant snowshoes, but the snow did make the place quite beautiful to take photographs of:

It was quite cold though with temperatures around 15 degrees Fahrenheit, so we were all bundled up pretty well for the day in the park.  From the parking lot I decided to take a loop hike around the entire park instead of just walking to the main section of the park where the colorful rocks are located. My wife and daughter decided just to walk over to where the rocks are located.  Though we were the only car in the parking lot, as I set off down the trail I could see that we weren’t the only people who visited the park that day:

The various trails around the park have sign posts that show which trail walkers are on:

The trail also had various markers along the way that described the geology and history of the park.  The various rock formations are caused by clays that were deposited in the sandstone over 55 million years ago by an ancient rain forest that once covered this land.  Erosion over the centuries exposed these clay deposits known as hoodoos which the Native-Americans used for paint and making pottery for approximately 9,000 years.  It is also believed that the Native-Americans used the park as a hunting ground since antelope and bison would have a difficult time escaping the hunters if they roamed out of the prairie and into the park.  As the Native-Americans were driven from the land settlers began to use the prairie around the park for grazing.  Some parts of the park was actually mined for clay bricks in the early 1900’s.  The local Freeman family is credited with working to preserve the land.

After crossing the prairie for about a half mile the trail then headed towards the south and passed by some eroded cliff faces:

The trail then headed towards the main hills where the hoodoos are located at:

The trail then came to an intersection where I could walk over to the hoodoos or take another loop trail that travels to the south and up a hill before heading back to the main section of the park.  I decided to go ahead and follow this trail.  As the below picture shows, I was the only person who had hiked the trail that day:

As the trail ascended up the hill side I had some nice views of the park:

Of course Paint Mines had the hardy yucca plant growing here that can be found growing in just about every climate in the Colorado Springs region:

From the top of the hill I had a nice view looking down towards the main section of the park where the colorful rocks are located:

From the top of the hill the trail then makes a long loop back into the prairie:

At this point I was actually getting quite cold due to the blowing wind while I walked across the open prairie.  I had forgot to bring a scarf or my ski mask which caused my face to get so cold.  Once the trail looped back around towards the hills of the park the wind was at my back and thus I warmed up:

The trail then follows the top of one of these hills back towards the main section of the park:

From this viewpoint I could see the small village of Calhan out in the distance:

From the viewpoint the trail began to work its way down into the main section of the park where the colorful rocks can be found:

It was at this point that my camera’s battery died because of the cold, so I did not get any pictures of the colorful hoodoos up close.  My camera had been acting up most of the hike and I had kept it in my jacket pocket trying to keep it warm.  The batteries finally gave out on this last section of the hike.  However, the colors of the hoodoos could not really be seen anyway because of all the snow that had covered them.  After spending a few moments looking around the rocks I did not see my wife and daughter and thus decided to quickly walk back to the parking lot since the wind was picking up.  When I got back to my truck I found my wife and daughter inside getting warmed up after walking for a bit in the park.  The wind had eventually gotten to them like it had gotten to me.

Conclusion

Despite the extreme cold it was once again a nice Christmas outing for my family.  Paint Mines may not be as spectacular as the Garden of the Gods, but it really is a place that every local should go out and visit at least once.  When the weather warms up I plan on using this place as one of my jogging courses because the 3.35 mile length of the outer trail is a great jogging distance by being just over 5 kilometers.   When the weather warms up I also plan on getting some pictures of the colorful rocks, so stay tuned.

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