PARK: Paint Mines Interpretive Park, 750 acres.

BEST TIMES TO VISIT: Spring and fall are best, in summer get an early start to beat the heat.

TRAILS: Over 4 miles of trails with interpretive signage, passing through breathtaking geological formations of spires, hoodoos and eroded gullies of exposed layers of selenite clay and jasper.

LENGTH: About 5 miles on loop type hike.

DIFFICULTY: Easy, fairly flat terrain.

NOTES: For more information and to print a park map, go to communityservices.elpasoco.com/parks-and-recreation/paint-mines-interpretive-park. Park is open dawn to dusk, stay on the trails, no collecting of plants or rocks, no climbing on formations and no pets or bicycles. Bring microspikes for better traction in case of icy spots on the trails.

During the colder and snowier early spring season, Paint Mines is about a 30 minute drive away to enjoy some plains hiking. Spring and fall are the best times to visit, but cooler early mornings in summer are good too.

Hidden near the rolling landscape of Calhan, Colo., a mini Canyonlands awaits, so be sure to bring your camera. The Paint Mines are named for their colorful clays that were collected by American Indians to make paint. Oxidized iron compounds create the brightly colored bands in the clay formations. Evidence of human life in the area dates back to 9,000 years ago. Grasslands dominate the area, along with some shrubs and a few pines and junipers. Some unique plains animals you may see here include pronghorn antelope and short-horned lizards. Listen for the melodious song of the Western Meadowlark and you may catch a glimpse of Colorado’s state bird, the Lark Bunting, which breeds in the plains of eastern Colorado.

Begin your short road trip heading east on Woodmen Road to Highway 24, then northeast to the small town of Calhan. Calhan is of elevational interest; with the Woodmen area at 6,749 feet, it is a short drop to Calhan at 6,535 feet. Basically, heading east from Calhan it is all downhill until the Appalachians in the east, with the highest point there being Mount Mitchell in North Carolina at 6,683 feet, only 148 feet higher than Calhan. From Calhan, go south on Yoder Street/Calhan Highway for about a mile, then left heading eastward on Paint Mines Road and follow the road for about 1 1/2 miles to the parking area.

From the parking area, head eastward on trail a short distance, then turn right and head southward for about half a mile. At the trail intersection, turn right and head southward into the main formations for about half a mile to where the trail deadends. After getting your fill of spires and hoodoos, retrace your steps back northward for about a one-fourth of a mile and turn right at the trail intersection. Continue eastward for about three-quarters of a mile to a T junction. Turn left, heading northward on trails that will take you on a nice looping stroll through the grassland and past interpretive signs and a nice overlook where you can even see Pikes Peak to the west. Keep bearing right at all trail intersections to continue the loop for about 2.25 miles back to the parking area.

Joe LaFleur has lived in southern Colorado since 2016 and is a hiking enthusiast that hits the trails weekly. Contact Joe with questions or feedback at joelafleur@peakinter.net. Hiking is great exercise but can be hazardous. Always be sure to plan well, check the weather, bring a printed map, tell someone where and when you are going and contact them when you return safely.

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