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Rediscovering Colorado: Paint Mines is the most interesting park you may never have heard of

The park is 30 minutes outside Colorado Springs and has a history dating back hundreds of years.

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. — As the world reopens, 9NEWS reporter Marc Sallinger and Anne Herbst are hitting the road and Rediscovering Colorado.

Our journey through Colorado starts the way all great road trips should: carrying a load of camera gear up a hill with the promise of seeing something cool on the other side.

The Paint Mines Interpretative Park reminds you of something halfway between a Disney movie set and Mars. It’s the type of place you can never take enough pictures of.

“Yes, I can definitely see the Mars reference,” said Adam Baker with El Paso County Parks and Recreation. “I love my job. There aren’t very many jobs you get to come out here and walk through gorgeous places like this.”

The Paint Mines Interpretive Park is in El Paso County, just 30 minutes from Colorado Springs, and yet, it’s the type of place even the guy charged with taking care of it hadn’t heard about growing up just miles away.

“I had no idea this was here,” Baker joked. “When you’re heading out here, there [are] plains, grasslands, rolling hills, you don’t think much of it. Then you get down in here you’re shocked at how unique this place is and how something so cool could stay hidden.”

But it’s getting noticed quickly. The colors, hoodoos (the tall rock formations) and trails were the perfect escape during the pandemic -- in good ways and bad.

“I’m happy people started noticing it, I wish people would respect it the same way I do,” said Baker. “We’ve had a couple issues with graffiti. People have written 'will you marry me?' on the rocks, and I just pray she said no.”

The colors in the rocks come from oxidized iron and were used by American Indians for pottery and paint, hence the name of the park. Fast forward to modern times where the land sat on private property for years before the county bought it and made it a park.

“Right now you’re just seeing erosion, natural erosion at work. None of this is manmade, this is all done by wind and water,” said Baker. “They believe that humans have been in this area for thousands of years.”

FAST FACTS

  • Address: 29950 Paint Mine Rd., Calhan, CO, 80808. It's about 30 miles east of Colorado Springs.
  • The park covers 750 acres, there are four miles of trails to enjoy.
  • No dogs, bikes or horses are allowed.
  • There is a bathroom on the premises.
  • What makes this park special, according to Visit Colorado Springs:
    • Archaeological evidence, such as arrowheads and stone dart tips, has found that there was prehistoric and historic occupation by Native American peoples. The earliest occupation was about 9,000 years ago. Artifacts found to represent the Apishapa culture, Cody complex and Duncan complex. The clay was used in prehistoric and historic times to create and paint pottery and as paint for ceremonial purposes. The selenite clay was used for arrowheads. The "channels" were used to herd buffalo into a gulch where they could be easily hunted with bows and arrows. In the 1800s Euro-American people settled in the park property. The Calhan Paint Mines Archaeological District was designated by the National Park Service. The land is protected by the El Paso County Parks Department, with funding by the State Historical Fund for master planning and an archaeological survey.

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