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Painting the prairie 

Park gem opens near Calhan

click to enlarge Towering, multicolored hoodoos can be found in El Paso - Countys newest park, a great place for a hike. - COURTESY OF EL PASO COUNTY DEVELOPMENT SERVICES

For decades it was known as a tripped-out wasteland of colorful spires where teenagers ruled the night with bottles of beer.

Then, for the last eight years, county planners fenced it off while they made careful preparations and offered limited guided tours.

Finally last month, the Paint Mines, two miles southeast of Calhan, re-opened to the public.

"We're lucky to have it," said Neil Katz, El Paso County's park planning supervisor, of the natural wind-washed bluffs and colorful clay and sandstone hoodoos that formed over 55 million years ago.

Over the ensuing centuries, Native Americans settled there and, later, white settlers dug out clay for pottery.

Making the 750-acre area a park, Katz said, helps preserve the sensitive clay banks, historical relics and prairie ecology.

Acquiring the property, building trails and constructing a restroom cost just over $1 million -- the lion's share coming from conservation trust funds garnered from state lottery profits. The whole project took a decade to complete, with little community resistance.

The park now is open from dawn to dusk every day, and trails promise easygoing two- or three-mile hikes. But due to the fragile nature of the clay walls, horses and dogs are not allowed.

"It's got an unusual flavor to it," said Toni Gibbons, an administrative assistant at Calhan Town Hall. "You'd have to go underground to see this type of formation, usually."

-- Dan Wilcock

  • Park gem opens near Calhan

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