The Paint Mines: inspiration in geology | Laura Kranz

The Paint Mines Interpretive Park is a series of small gorges filled with brightly-colored layers of clay and rock. It’s outside the tiny town of Calhan, Colorado—just east of where the Rockies meet Colorado Springs.

It’s filled with fascinating rock formations created over time by erosion.

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It’s also filled with strange colors and textures. The pink and yellow colors in the clay are what gave this place its name—the minerals here were once used by Native Americans to create paint.

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So what exactly are the Paint Mines?

This weird, fascinating park is full of surreal-looking spires and rock structures known as hoodoos.

A spire is a protrusion of rock that looks kind of like a tower on a castle.

paint-mines-rock-spire A hoodoo is like a spire, but with some kind of chunk of tougher rock on top that didn’t erode quite as easily as the rock underneath.

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According to the information article from El Paso County’s official site, the Paint Mines have archeological evidence of human life from as far back as 9,000 years ago.

Over time, erosion exposed the bright clay, which is colored by the minerals selenite and jasper.

Selenite, in its pure form, is colorless, but when mixed with other minerals (like in the clay at the Paint Mines) you find more pinks, oranges, and yellows.

Jasper can vary from brown, red, yellow, and green—and rarely, blue.

paint-mines-colorado-spires

Arrowheads and other Native American artifacts have been found there—it’s thought that Native Americans used the minerals for paint pigments.

How do you get to the Paint Mines?

Fortunately, the place is very accessible from both Denver (about 1.5 hours southeast from there) and Colorado Springs (about 30 minutes east). So if you’re in those areas, enjoy looking at weird rocks (like me) and have a morning or afternoon to spare, you should definitely go.

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Getting access to the interpretive park

Amazingly, the Paint Mines Interpretive Park is open to the public, so friends and I were able to climb around deep into crags.

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In some of the deeper, more cave-like crags, lots of rabbits make their home. We found several which were surprisingly tame; they let us get quite close.

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Even though a lot of the rocks and clay are slick and crumbly, there’s a lot of good climbing to be done, too.

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It looks gorgeous in the winter, but it can be treacherously slippery. A friend of mine even got a hand full of spines from a snow-camouflaged cactus. I’ll tell you what, though—the place makes for some amazing snowball fights.

Snowball punch at the Paint Mines

Try this at your own risk.

Learn more about the Paint Mines

The below video is the official El Paso County video about the Paint Mines, where you can learn a little more about their history and geological features.

Free texture photos from the Paint Mines

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There’s not much I enjoy quite as much as interesting forms in nature. They inspire a lot of my artwork (like my organic forms series and this set of vein patterns in leaves).

The Paint Mines is a place full of fantastical shapes and geological forms. The colors even inspired a painting of mine.

I’ve compiled some of these forms and shapes into a free download so that you can use them for inspiration as well. I only ask that if you use them in any work online that you credit me and link to my site.

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