Paint Mines and Other Rocky Spots in Colorado

October 5, 2014
Credit PHOTOS: Rick DuVal

Rocks. I love rocks. My mom and my sisters love rocks. We don’t know why. We just find them fascinating.

Maybe that’s why I find the Paint Mines so intriguing.

About an hour east of Colorado Springs, just past the town of Calhan, you’ll find the Paint Mines Interpretive Park. Just past the county fairgrounds, you’ll see signs directing you to it.

Pull intp the designated parking area and head up the trail. Watch for seasonal wildflowers flanking the pathway. Coming over the ridge, you might stop dead in your tracks to take in a stunning sight – a valley with approximately 750 acres of spires, hoodoos, mounds, gullies and other geological wonders. The colorful eroded rocks are made up of layers of selenite, jasper and common clay -- in a palette of cream, brown, red and ochre.

It’s estimated that the paint mines were visited by native Americans, mostly Plains Indians, as far back as 9,000 years ago. It’s believed they used the malleable clay for various purposes.

It’ll take a while to explore the four miles of trails, so go early in the day, before it gets too hot. Fall is a perfect time to visit. You’ll be tempted to climb on the rocks, but be warned – they’re slippery! And it’s harder to get down than it was to climb up.

If you’ve ever spent any time in Gunnison, you may have visited the Hartman Rocks Recreation Area, just south of town.

Here’ you’ll find 8,000 acres of true desert landscape, perfectly sculpted for mountain biking, motorcycling, rock climbing, horseback riding or just hiking. There are miles of single-track trails and dirt

Credit PHOTOS: Rick DuVal

   roads for motorized bikes and ATVs. Caution: Riders aren’t always careful when they get caught up in the thrill of soaring over its berms and rollers, so be careful when coming over a hill!

In winter, Nordic skiers find it a great place to get out into the snow without a ski lift in sight.

And the granite ridge that erupts all over the place just invites rock climbing. Don’t try it unless you know what you’re doing, though! Getting rescued can be expensive.

South of the town of Creede, in south central Colorado, check out the Wheeler Geological Area.  It might remind you a bit of Bryce Canyon in Utah. This bizarre and beautiful landscape of sculpted rock spires looks like it was transplanted from some other world.

The strange rock you see is called volcanic tuff. It’s rock that was blown into the air through volcanic vents, then settled to earth. The size of the rock varies greatly, from dust-like particles to boulders several feet across.

Credit PHOTOS: Rick DuVal

  Wind, rain and other erosion processes have created towers with hard caps, which resemble nothing so much as giant alien mushrooms.

Wheeler Geological Area was once the No. 2 attraction in Colorado – right after Pikes Peak. But that was in horse-and-buggy days. Ironically, he park’s doom came with the advent of the automobile. Tourists now wanted destinations that were accessible by car. The geological park still is not. You have to trek the last five miles or so of the journey on foot or on horseback.

You’ve got to really love rocks to get there.   

Of course, you can find easy access to places like Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs’ premier municipal park, or Red Rocks Canyon between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, or the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre and City Park in Denver.

I know, the similar names get confusing.

The stunning red sandstone formations are all part of the Morrison Formation that erupts periodically up and down the Front Range. Check out Red Canyon Park a smaller version of Garden of the Gods just north of Canon City.

The park is a lightly visited but spectacular spot. Here, you can hike, picnic or ride your bike – and climb at your own risk.     

Me? I just like to look at them.

WEB EXTRA

IF YOU GO

Paint Mines: http://adm.elpasoco.com/CommunityServices/ParkOperations/Pages/PaintMinesInterpretivePark.aspx

Hartman Rocks: http://www.gunnisoncrestedbutte.com/activities/spring/national-parks/hartman-rocks

Wheeler Geologic Area: http://www.southern-colorado-guide.com/wheeler-geological-area.html

Garden of the Gods: http://gardenofgods.com/home/index.cfm?flash=1

Red Rocks Park: http://www.denver.org/listings/Red-Rocks-Park-Amphitheatre/4574/

Linda DuVal
Linda DuVal

 Linda DuVal is the former travel editor for The Gazette, a freelance travel writer and winner of several Lowell Thomas awards. She is the co-author of Insider’s Guide to Colorado Springs and writes a local Web site, Pikes Peak on the Cheap (www.pikespeakonthecheap.com).

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