Paint Mines Interpretive Park – Calhan, CO

What it is : A badlands-type area in the Colorado prairie. Gullies, spires, hoodoos, and sculpted walls carved out of brightly colored clay deposits.

Location : About a 5 minute drive from Calhan, Colorado, approx. 30 miles east of Colorado Springs. Take Hwy 24 to Calhan, turn right on Yoder Rd., and follow the signs.

Gear :  Nothing special. Wear sneakers or trail shoes and bring a water bottle and a snack.

Distance : Four miles of easy trails.

Details : This place is a well-kept secret. The sites listing “places to see in the Colorado Springs area” don’t mention it. When you arrive at the parking area (there’s a big stone sign declaring the park’s entrance), you won’t see anything spectacular — just prairie in every direction. Pick a trail — doesn’t matter which one, they all intersect and take you to the same spots — and go. The park is rich in plant and animal life and is a beautiful example of native prairie.

Sooner or later you’ll walk up on the expanse of natural clay sculpture. It is nothing short of spectacular — chasms, spires, overhangs, carved walls, the works. The colorful clays — layers of snowy white, golden yellow, rose pink and purplish mauve — are what give the park its name. Native Americans used the deposits for paints and pottery, and settlers later mined the clay to make bricks.

Though they look like solid stone, the hoodoos and other formations are in fact very fragile. When wet, the clay will rub off on your fingers and leave colorful smears on your clothes. Scrambling up and over the formations is discouraged; you’re literally hastening their erosion with every step. For this reason, pets and bicycles areforbidden.

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Wonderland spots on earth