Colorado Springs, Catamount Trail and Painted Mines
It was time to hit the road again, and soon we were on our way to Colorado Springs. We pulled into Goldfield RV Park which happens to be a Passport America membership campground. Some of these parks can be nice. This is not one of them. I’ve never seen spaces so crammed together – almost like a storage facility. There are few trees and it is right on a major highway. Nights are quiet enough, but all day there is traffic. Won’t stay here again, but it does serve as a good base for the hikes we have in mind.
We planned a 6.4 mile hike that includes a 1200’ elevation gain for today. The weather is supposed to stay dry until at least the afternoon, with thundershowers a possibility. We wanted to hike the Catamount Lake trail up to an area called, “The Garden of Eden.” Mary wasn’t feeling great, waking with a headache, but the lure of hanging gardens drove us to attempt the hike.
There is no parking at the trailhead, or along the dirt road leading to it. To get to it, we had to park in town at a small park and lake, then walk back up the road to a side road. Now it is a 1 mile steep rise on the dirt road past private homes. After a mile, we hit the actual trailhead and continued up the steep rocky switchback track. We stopped at a waterfall for a short while, then started off again. We began to see patches of scattered snow as the trail continued to rise. Not a worry yet, but the higher we got, the more snow was present.Eventually we got to about the 2/3 point up before the trail became too snow covered. I wasn’t even sure where the trail was, so we reluctantly turned back. The Garden of Eden will have to wait for another trip. On the way back down the dirt road, we began hearing the distinctive sound of a woodpecker. We scoured the trees around us, but finally found one, then another on a power line pole right next to us.
We went back to camp, both of up not feeling great. The partial hike we did was not long, but was tiring. We had thoughts of going out to Painted Mines for a hike in the afternoon, but decided to wait till morning.
May 13Doing her research, Mary discovered a little known County Park called, Painted Mines, about 40 miles east of Colorado Springs. There are more than 3 miles of trails that meander around and through this geologic area of badlands-type terrain, with no more than 300’ elevation gains.The weather reports are calling for rain much of the day, with thunder showers in the late afternoon. This is our only chance to see this new area, so we decided to chance it. We arrived around 9:30 AM. Not another soul to be seen. Maybe it was because of the “Relentless Prairie Winds” the information plaque mentioned – like 25 mph steady cold wind. There was heavy overcast with light mist with a little rain mixed in. This made the sky white and featureless – not something that I thought would record well as images, but we were here, so we ventured out.With grasslands spread out all around us, we began walking the trail. It is wide and smooth and easy to walk. There are 2 parking areas to choose to begin hiking. We chose the main parking area. The path rises steady for about a quarter mile before dropping into the formations area. Here, erosion has uncovered the very colorful layers of strata that form these mud hills, and give them their name. This area has some nice hilly aspects to it, but as I looked out toward the east, I could see it just got flatter and flatter. At first, there doesn’t seem to be much to see, but soon the trail drops down into some of the creases in the hilly landscape. Once down into the protection of the hills, the wind dropped off almost completely and it was much more comfortable to walk around. We started seeing the first of the formations – giving us a taste of what was to come. The best way to see and photograph this place is to leave the main trail and walk up the many washes between the formations. Get up close and personal. The colors of the layered hills seemed in many places to just melt down into each other as the hill eroded away. Hard cap rock on top created towering hoodoo’s in one area, while in another, hill faces of reds, pinks and yellows would stack up along the wash. As the mist and rain began to increase, we decided to head back to the car to see if it would pass. Walking in the washes was getting a little more difficult as the wetness began turning the walking into a muddy slog. The main path stayed in great shape, but down in the formation washes, it was getting dicy. Mud was thickly caked on our boots. Back at the car, we warmed ourselves up with coffee and snacks and read while we watched the shower pass. We drove the short distance to the other parking area closer to the formations we just finished walking. Here the path drops down steeply right into the formations. We went back down when the rain let up to continue our walk. We picked up where we left off earlier by staying on the main trail that, once down at the bottom, begins rising up again to another part of the park. Here more sections of formations were found. The crazy sculpted formations here were mostly a light gray with just bits of colored strata exposed. We also had nice views of the surrounding landscape. We spend another hour or so walking and photographing along these paths. But the wind on the rim was still quite strong and cold and it wasn’t real pleasant walking. We only hiked a relatively short portion of the trails. Much of it goes out into the prairie where it was photographically much less interesting. We would have walked it anyway, but the wind was indeed relentless, though by now was beginning to lighten up. Even though the sky was largely featureless until just before we left, we came away with some nice images. The positive aspect of the sky was that it cast a very even light on the formations allowing the colors to come out more. Being wet helped as well. I’d like to return at some point to photograph in different light, but that will wait for another time. We packed it up and headed back to camp. The way the area is positioned, I’d guess the best time to photograph here would be dawn to early morning. There is no camping here, but it is pretty remote and one might get away with an overnighter in order to be here at sunrise. Overall, a very good first look for us.
Tomorrow we head for Denver to attend my niece’s wedding, then out to the Pawnee Buttes and more grasslands.