In continuation of my first blog post about my anticipated trip to Bryce Canyon, I sought out to explore other places where I could see more of these fascinating figures called hoodoos. Thus I stumbled upon a place in Colorado called Paint Mines Interpretive Park. Sitting east of Colorado Springs in the small town of Calhan, this park is one of Colorado’s true hidden gems. The park is rated as one of the most colorful places in the world, and boasts 750 acres of winding gulches, hoodoos, spires and open grass meadows with visible wildflowers even in mid-August.
So in order to “catch the good light” at sunrise, I got up at 4:00 am on a Saturday morning and made the short 1 hour and 20-minute drive out to Calhan. As I turned on highway 24 heading east I came across an immensely dense fog, which made for some tricky driving in the early hours of the morning. As I continued on (hoping the fog would burn off) the fog got even thicker. I arrived at the park right at sunrise, but sadly there was no sunrise to witness. As I got out of my car and started down the trail, I could not see 10ft in front of me. But I continued walking to see what I could see.
So as I continued to walk I relished in the fact that there was not a soul out here with me! If you are from Colorado then you know what I mean, you can’t go to any trail, park or lake without seeing crowds of other people.
I finally approached the first sign of any sort of formation. With evidence of human life as far back as 9,000 years ago I began to see why this place was so special to the people that lived here. For miles and miles, there is nothing but the countryside for miles, then suddenly you come upon an eroded ravine, revealing colorful rock formations, hoodoos, spires, and cliffs. The floor bed from which these formations originate from only drops down about 500 ft. making it very accessible to walk amongst these magnificent structures.
The sandstone caps that sit atop these hoodoos protect the clay from erosion and help preserve the beautiful colors that make this place so special. Native Americans used the colorful reds, purples and yellow clays for pottery and ceremonial paint (which is how the park got its name) but today for me the colors provided a feast for my artistic eye.
So despite the weather, I managed to get in a few good shots. As the fog lifted after a few hours, I was able to grab a few more good shots with the brilliant blue sky.
The Bare Necessities:
When to go: The park is open 7 days a week from dawn until dusk.
How much does it cost?: It’s for FREE!!!
Getting there: From Denver, head south on 1-25 for about 50 miles to exit 163, turn left on S. County Line Rd/Palmer Divide Rd. Follow the road for about 5 miles, then turn right onto CO-83 S., which you will stay on for about 4 miles. Continuing onto Hodgen Rd. take Murphy Rd. to US-24 E. in Peyton. Staying on this road for about 20 miles then take a left onto US-24 E., which will take you directly to the park.
Once you’re there: There are 3 well-defined parking areas along Paint Mine Road (one with basic bathroom facilities), which all have access to the full 4-mile loop hiking trail, there are also shorter routes available throughout the park for easy accessibility.