We visited the Paint Mines Interpretive Park on a cold, sunny day in December. They’re located in Calhan, Colorado, just under an hour’s drive East of Colorado Springs and about 90 minutes from Denver. My sister-in-law told us about them and boy, was she right, they’re a sight to see! Noelle here, by the way.
How do I get there?
The park is located at 29950 Paint Mine Rd., Calhan, CO 80808 in El Paso County. It’s down a well-maintained gravel road. Two parking lots exist, and we went to the second one after a young man pulled over to tell us it was closer to the “action”. He was right. The first lot has bathrooms, port a potties, I think, but during our visit, it was blocked off for construction. Many of the trails are under reconstruction now, but should be complete by April, 2021. Skip the first lot and park in the Overlook lot. It’s much closer to the mines, themselves.
The drive had us wondering if we may be traveling the wrong way, as we mainly saw flat grasslands. But then we saw the ravine and the splendor of the rock colors. So we knew we were in the right place.
What are the Paint Mines like?
The Paint Mines are ancient. Now, I mean super ancient, like millions of years in the making. Natural erosion makes for the most beautiful colors of rock and clay, along with stunning hoodoos and spires. This park is amazing, and it’s one of only four such sites in Colorado. Well, that’s what I read anyway, not that the article told me where the other four are. Anyway, you need to go here. Seriously. Just go.
With about four miles of trails, there are tons of exploring options. We chose to go down into the mines first, before hiking around the surrounding areas. We went on a weekend, which isn’t the norm for us, since non-vagabonds are also frequenting all the outdoor spaces on weekends. It was crowded, but people tended to pull up their masks when passing on the trail and it certainly wasn’t overly crowded. It might get crazy during summer weekends, but this time of year with cold, wintry days, we had a great time.
Where’s the name Paint Mines come from?
The Paint Mines are literally named for the colorful clay. Oxidized iron compounds amidst the layered earth cause bright clays from white to pink to rust and even some purple. There’s evidence of human occupation as far back as 9,000 years ago. The Native Americans used the clay for pottery and ceremonial reasons. They also used the selenite clay in making arrowheads, some of which have been found during area excavations. The channels in the mines made a perfect area for the Natives to funnel buffalo into the gulches, where they could then more easily be hunted. We explored some of the channels and I quickly sported white clay. It billowed up as we walked and it stuck to our clothes. I’m a clutz, as you probably already know. So I quickly slipped and got white powder on my butt and then on my knees as I stood back up.
The rock formations are fragile, and I felt some guilt at my clumsiness. We tried our best to explore without causing damage. It’s wild to me that we’re walking in places that others walked 9,000 years ago. I have to wonder what their lives were like. Were these Painted Mines a sacred place for them? Did they live right here or did they travel for days to get to the place where the colored clay existed? It’s so easy for us to travel places, that I forget how our ancestors went everywhere on foot or on horseback.
How much time should we spend at Paint Mines?
We spent about three hours walking and exploring and that feels like a good amount of time. I hear there are picnic tables at the first parking lot, but for us, we wandered and then we ate some ramen in Cupcake. That’s what we do. Explore and eat.
The Paint Mines Park is open 7 days a week from dawn to dusk. There isn’t a lot of shade (any?), so if it’s summer I’d certainly plan an early morning or a late evening adventure. Wear good shoes, as the ground is uneven, even while the trails are fairly smooth. We found a bench on a great overlook, so we sat for a while and looked for birds or other animals. It was quiet on the animal front for us that day.
Keep in mind that dogs aren’t allowed, because of the fragility of the mines. So please leave Fido at home. Also no motorized vehicles, horses or camping is allowed. I imagine that the ground would be fairly muddy if visiting after a rainstorm, so that might not be the best time to visit. However, I wonder if the colors come alive when they’re wet. So maybe after a rainstorm is the best time to visit!
We’re in Colorado Springs so much lately and we occasionally get to see some pretty cool sites when we’re here. Hope you enjoy it!