Goals. Funny things they are. They can make you feel a whole host of emotions when writing them down or upon reflection of them. They can simultaneously make you feel invigorated and defeated. This is never more prevalent than the first of the year when we make resolution; staunchly stick to them for a few weeks, and by the second week of February, all shred of hope, promise, and determination has vanished and only failure remains. As the story goes for so many of us each year.
I don’t know about you, but I hate this feeling. I gave up making resolutions years ago. I despised never meeting my own expectations. I always let myself down. My standards for myself are ridiculously high in most cases. However, one goal I think I am doing an acceptable job attaining, is seeing what this area of Colorado has to offer before we hightail it out of here. Colorado Springs is not for us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy every little bit of it while we are getting our ducks in a row to return North of I-70 or west of the C.D.
One item on our “must see” list was the Paint Mines. From the photos I had seen, the Paint Mines resembled a magical oasis on the plains of Eastern CO. I had been itching to get out there, but my anticipation was held in check by the environment. It is snakey! It is no secret that all of our Front Range exploits must be done in the winter, when the snakes are peacefully sleeping somewhere far away from my wandering eyes. A late January day fit the necessary requirements for a trip out East.
From our place in Palmer Lake, it is took just shy of an hour driving on country roads to get there. The drive isn’t exciting, as it mirrors the experience of driving through Western KS. The park isn’t huge by Colorado standards, only 750 acres, and about five or so miles of trails. Due to the fragile environment, dogs and horses are prohibited in the park. Good to know before you go with dogs in tow, as we almost did!
While the temperatures were mild the day we went, the skies were, unfortunately, overcast. I hoped for a brilliant blue sky with bright, gloriously sun lit rocks. It didn’t happen, but even with the murky gray skies, the hoodoos and the ribbons of vibrant colors still managed to put on quite a show.
We utilized the main entrance and took the first right on the trail, at about .07 miles. Then we followed that for about a half a mile and stayed to the left at the next fork to take us into the gullies. Towards the West Overlook. This is where you will find the most colorful rocks and spectacular hoodoos. We promised Drake rainbow rocks, and while our exceedingly literal preschooler noted they weren’t really the colors of the rainbow, they were quite cool nonetheless.
Water and wind are powerful forces and the Paint Mines does a fine jobs of putting these forces of nature on display. Years of erosion, about 55 million years, created the hoodos, spires, and deep gullies, revealing layers of jasper and seienite clay vibrantly stained by the oxidation of iron compounds. The Dawson Formation was formed approximately 55 million years ago when the climate was strikingly different. It was warmer, wetter, and tropical. Geologic time blows my mind. The sheer magnitude of the number of years in the geological record is difficult to comprehend and process. Can you imagine Colorado tropical or without the mountains or underwater? Whenever I take the time to consider the geology of an area, I am left in awe.
Evidence of humans in this area can be traced back almost 9000 years. Due to the diverse plant and animal communities and the colorful clays, the Paint Mines drew prehistoric peoples to the area year after year, century after century. Before European Settlement (this is always the caveat, isn’t it?) the area supported large herbivores including bison, pronghorn, and mule deer. The bison are no longer found in the area, but pronghorn, mule deer, coyote, and a host of small mammals still inhabit the area. If it weren’t for my irrational fear, I would love to visit the area again in April and May and hear the unmistakable song of the Western Meadowlark. For the bird enthusiasts, owls, Swainson’s Hawks, and a variety of ducks can be spotted at the Paint Mines. As far as the vegetation, it is of the Eastern Plains variety, mostly grasses, sedges, reedy plants, and a sparse showing of juniper and pines. The interpretive literature noted that some of the creek beds retain enough water to support chokecherry, wild rose, and mountain mahogany. Again, it would be a great place to visit in the Spring when all the colors begin to pop. The lush green of spring set against that stark white quartz would be a striking sight.
Our Springs Bucket List remains quite long, but we will continue to place tick marks by each location. We have a few years to explore them all, and we are committed to living it up while we are here. There is a lot unique about this area, and while I may not love to live here, it does offer up a wide variety of outdoor adventures. Each adventure providing the opportunity to mark off the list and give us a since of accomplishment towards a goal, and that is always a satisfying feeling.
Just the Facts:
- Location: Paint Mines Interpretive Park – Calhan, CO
- Directions: 24 Highway east from Colorado Springs to Calhan. South on Yoder Rd. East on Paint Mines Road. Parking area on this road on the east side.
- Restrooms at trailhead
- Mileage logged: About 1.5 miles
- No dogs or horses