Responsible use of nature means leave no trace.

The Paint Mines Interpretive Park, near Calhan, is a rare geological wonder on the prairie. Towering hoodoos and shades of purple, yellow, pink, red, and orange cover walls of clay in this 750-acre, creek-bed environment.

The park’s hoodoo geology, tall spires of rock topped with a boulder, is one of only three areas with these types of formations in the U.S. (the others being in Utah and New Mexico). They are caused by erosion from wind and rain, while the colors are the result of oxidized iron in the soil.

The paint mines have evidence of human life as far back as 9,000 years ago, and it’s the colorful rock used by Native Americans for pottery and ceremonial paint that earned the park its name. In addition, in the early 1900s, the clay was mined to make colorful bricks, according to the park website.

And unfortunately, another very unwelcome sign of human life was recently spotted by a hiker: graffiti.

Several rocks in the park were spray-painted with words, symbols, and more. It's bad enough to do this anywhere in nature, but the rock formations at the Paint Mines are particularly fragile. Climbing on them is prohibited to try to stem erosion, and it is encouraged to look but don't touch while hiking the four-miles of trails in the park. Pets, horses, and bicycles are also prohibited.

In other words, several precautions have been put in place to protect the park while still leaving it open to visitors. In addition, all of the land, plants, wildlife, artifacts, and more in the park are protected by state law. So, it's likely the vandals will face serious consequences when apprehended. 

The vandalism comes at a time where the park has seen visitors pouring after the stay-at-home orders were lifted. 

"County Parks has noted exceptionally heavy use of the Paint Mines Interpretive Park. There are concerns whether the required physical distancing is being observed and the negative impact of overuse of the site," said El Paso County. "To help address the overuse of the Paint Mines Interpretive Park and addressing required physical distancing, residents are encouraged to use other County Park sites."

Park officials said it took several hours to scrub the paint off with a wire brush, which further accelerates erosion of the formations. 

Anyone with information on the vandalism is asked to contact the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office at (719) 390-5555.