Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Government Trail to Grand Gulch

The Government Trail is one of several that provide access to Grand Gulch in the Cedar Mesa area in southeast Utah. The access road is a west turn from Utah Route 261, 9.9 miles south of the Kane Gulch Ranger Station onto the road that appears to be marked as the Cigarette Springs Road. Then it is 9.2 miles to the trailhead.

There are three junctions where you stay to the right, two of them marked. The last 1.5 miles is narrower and much bumpier.

At the trailhead, there are some information signs and a trail register. The Grand Gulch area has a $2 per hiker permit fee for day hiking. There is a 2.5 mile or so segment along an old road through mesa top desert vegetation before reaching the canyon rim. A sign at the trailhead says 3 miles but I don’t think it is that far. Polly’s Canyon is visible on the right as the trail heads north to the rim.

It took me 0:55 minutes to arrive at the rim where there are views across to the formation known as Polly’s Island. From here there is a switchback constructed trail that leads about 0.8 miles to the canyon floor. This area is about 26 canyon miles downstream from the Kane Gulch Ranger Station trail head.

With binoculars, there is a ruins site visible just below the rim of Polly’s Island. Several doorways are visible and some open rooms are spread out along the ledge. There might be more ruins sites on top but it was hard to tell. 

There might be a ruins site on the northwest side of Polly’s Island but there is a lot of thick brush and a steep climb up the sandy banks. I went part of the way there but didn't go far enough.

The main attraction of this hike is the Big Man rock art panel up the canyon about 1.5 miles. After looking around briefly to the left I continued up canyon to the right. Most of the trail is along the canyon floor where it is mostly wide and smooth. There were several muddy spots where a recent flood had left pools of water.

Most of the extreme muddy spots had side trails around them but I think the flooding had disrupted these trails somewhat. Much of the vegetation close to the banks appeared to be pushed over by the flowing water. I by-passed the Polly’s canyon on the right where there is an arch. 

The Big Man panel is high above the trail on the face of a rocky point. I was checking the map frequently and even when I thought I was near it I didn't see it right away. The view up is obscured both by the angle and the many Cottonwood trees along the canyon floor.

I was slightly past it when I saw it. The trail to climb up is on the left side and is steep. The two large reddish figures catch the most attention.

There is an interpretive sketch in an ammo box at the site that identifies the male figure on the right as Tawa’ Ki and the female on the left as Tawa’ Ka. It points out that a spiral, scarf and handbag are associated with the female.

To the left, there some white figures and some red handprints but no interpretation is offered. It took me about 3:00 hours to arrive at the Big Man Panel. I didn't notice any other ruins or rock art along this section of canyon, but there may be some.

My return hike took 2:30 hours for a total hike of 5:50 hours for about 9 miles. It was about 70 F degrees in the morning and 82 F in the afternoon on a mid September day. I carried 3 liters of water and needed every drop. I didn't see any other hikers during my hike.

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