There’s no debate: Colorado Springs’s greatest claim to fame is Garden of the Gods, with its towering red rock formations. But if you drive out onto the plains (quite literally where the deer and the antelope play!), you’ll find the Paint Mines Interpretive Park, conclusive proof that not every rock in this amazing place is red.
History of the Paint Mines Interpretive Park
Though the extent of what this park has to offer is largely hidden from sight until you get right up to it, what makes the Paint Mines so compelling for today’s Instagrammers and photographers is exactly what attracted Native Americans to this site as far back as 9,000 years ago: the gorgeous, unique colors. The colors come from clays with various mineral makeups, and for thousands of years, local Native American groups harvested these clays for use in pottery and paints.
According to El Paso County, harvesting of this clay continued up until the 1990s, when it was used to create buildings in nearby Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Now, however, the park is a protected area with strict rules to help preserve its unique natural state.
The sandstone rock formations, themselves, are stunning even without the clay, as they’re bleached nearly white and starkly formed by centuries of erosion. That said, there are recurring shapes that appear throughout the park, the most easy to spot being hoodoos, so called because they’ve eroded to look like stacks of rounded rocks that appear almost like giant representations of people.
Boyfriend Perspective: It had just rained the night before we flew in, and this made the sandstone very soft and malleable. We were able to make out a number of animal tracks, most deer or antelope, but we did come across a tracks for a large cat – though, as we are not experts we could not tell you what kind. Once the sandstone had dried, the tracks were embedded like foot prints in wet cement.
Getting to the Paint Mines
On our second morning in Colorado Springs, we headed out to the Paint Mines in our comically huge pickup truck. Since it’s about an hour northeast of Colorado Springs, we got plenty of time to get familiar with the landscape, which is so very different from what we’re used to at home in Virginia, and even greater worlds apart from what we’d just seen a few weeks earlier on our trip to Vancouver and Banff.
It’s FLAT. Flat enough that you can see groups of pronghorns hanging out on the prairie from probably a mile away, which blew us both away. Honestly, neither of us actually realized that the whole “where the deer and the antelope play” had any kind of validity, and I sat there in the passenger seat like a moron going, “they have ANTELOPE?!” Well, they’re technically faux antelope. But still.
We passed through a couple of tiny towns on our mostly-straight shot out to the mines, then hung a couple of turns on dusty roads until we swung into the gravel parking lot in front of what appeared to be a field. There’s a huge field of wind turbines spinning slowly in the distance, but because the Paint Mines are largely below ground level, it’s only the informational signs and the park welcome sign that let you know you haven’t just made a bizarre mistake.
After getting situated, we walked down the long path down to the mines and were absolutely stunned when we came over a little rise and saw the whole bleached park stretched out before us.
Boyfriend Perspective: Driving in the plains of North America is the most boring thing ever. I have done it twice, and both times could have fallen asleep had I not been using only the most potent of caffeinated beverages I could find. Sadly, those wings I got didn’t do anything to help me surpass the speed limit and shorten my trip.
Hoodoos and spires for days!
Guys, if you’re into geology, history, nature-watching, hiking, and/or photography, this is definitely your kind of place.
In the course of the few hours we were there, we perused most of the 3 miles of trails, flanked by grasses and flowering shrubs that had largely turned red, gold, and brown thanks to the onset of Fall. And the whole way, we were towered over by these amazing, colorful rock formations. There are plenty of people doing dumb things and climbing all over them at ridiculous heights – which, incidentally, we later discovered is against the rules of the park – but there are just as many folks quietly enjoying the scenery and admiring the views.
One of the cool things about this place is that, even if it’s somewhat busy, you still feel isolated because there are almost pockets of formations that can hide other people from view and make you feel like you have the place to yourself.
There are signs and plaques at many of the trail junctures, letting you know what kind of formations you’re about to see, and the importance of the land. It’s like a lovely cross between an open-air museum and a hiking trail. It’s stunning, and a place we 100% recommend you see on your next trip to Colorado Springs.
Boyfriend Perspective: :spooky voice: There are great mysteries to be found in the mines! Like this one scaaaary creature, just barely surviving the harsh climate by secreting itself within the hoodoos. This is the home of the wild bunny rabbit. :end spooky voice: They were soooo cute. I think we saw 5 or 6 different bunnies hopping along some were within a few feet of us and only a tad skittish. Visitors should be able to get a few good pictures of them.
Have you ever been to the Paint Mines Interpretive Park? Let us know what you thought in the comments!
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Also published on Medium.