The Paint Mines near Calhan offer a surprising sight hidden in the prairie — an alien landscape with striking formations and colorful clay deposits.

The area has been labeled a “geological wonder” by Atlas Obscura, which offers a guide to the world’s “most wondrous places.” The brightly colored bands of clay are the result of oxidized iron compounds and were collected by American Indians to make paint.

There’s evidence of human habitation in the area dating back 9,000 years. Today, the Paint Mines are maintained by El Paso County as Paint Mines Interpretive Park, covering 750 acres; the area was listed as an archaeological district in the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.

In exploring this geologic wonderland, keep in mind that it’s a fragile one. Climbing on the formations is prohibited and people are asked to stay on designated trails at all times; there are roughly four miles of trails. Pets are prohibited.

The geologic formations create “natural drainages abundant with wetland and riparian habitiat,” according to a county description. Wildlife in the park ranges from pronghorn and mule deer to a variety of birds and various species of frogs and reptiles, including the short-horned lizard.

Open year-round, the park is a mile south of Calhan, at 29950 Paint Mines Road.

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