Man Pictograph Panel
10.6 miles (round trip)
time: 6 1/4 hours
620 ft. loss/gain
The first 2.8 miles of trail is actually an old jeep
road that has been closed to vehicles by the BLM.
The 0.8 mile section of trail that descends from the
canyon rim into Grand Gulch is a good trail. The remainder
of the route is an easy walk through the bottom of
Spring, summer, fall. Spring or fall are the ideal
times for this hike. The canyon is very hot in the
summer and cold in the winter. The road to the car
parking area is unpaved for the last 9 miles and may
be impassible in wet weather. For current conditions
call the San Juan Resource Area, Bureau of Land Management,
in Monticello at (801) 587-2141.
Near Mexican Hat
you begin this hike, pause to examine the small pond
near the car parking area. The pond is an oasis in
the middle of a largely waterless tableland. Although
it was constructed originally by local ranchers for
the purpose of watering their cattle, it has since
become a haven for birds, deer, and coyotes. If you
arrived too late in the day to begin your hike, the
pond is a delightful place to spend the night. One
starry, spring evening while I was camped there I
was treated to an unforgettable outdoor performance
by a local orchestra of very talented frogs and birds.
The concert began at dusk, with a few bass frogs tuning
up their instruments, and as the night wore on they
were joined by a variety of birds and insects and
even an occasional coyote yipping from a nearby hill.
By about 10:00 p.m. the musicians all seemed to be
doing their utmost to outdo each other, and although
none of them could be seen I am sure they could be
heard at least a mile away.
ago it was possible to drive a jeep from the cattle
pond all the way to the rim of Grand Gulch, where
the Government Trail begins. The Grand Gulch is now
designated as a Primitive Area, however, and the road
beyond the pond is closed to all vehicles. Getting
to Government Trail today requires a 2.8 mile walk
along the former jeep road. The walk can be hot in
the summer, but it is not without a measure of scenery.
The road parallels Pollys Canyon, across a flat, open
forest of juniper and pinion pine and lots of sagebrush.
It is ideal rabbit country and, consequently, supports
a large population of coyotes. After an hours
walk the road suddenly arrives at the canyon rim,
where a weathered wooden sign identifies the Government
The view from the rim
into Grand Gulch is magnificent. Pollys Island, a
huge piece of the mesa separated from the canyon walls
by a dry meander in the streambed, rises directly
to the east, while up and down the Gulch the bright
green canyon floor borders the pink, convoluted walls
of Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Government Trail is only
0.8 mile long, and is the easiest of any of the five
trails leading into Grand Gulch. It was probably built
in the 1930s by the CCC workers to provide a way for
ranchers to get cattle in and out of the canyon. The
trail reaches the canyon floor at the base of Pollys
Island, 0.2 mile south of the confluence with Pollys
Once on the canyon floor
it is an easy walk up the flat streambed of Grand
Gulch to the Big Man Pictograph Panel. The Gulch is
particularly pretty in this section, and there are
numerous nice places to camp if you are so inclined.
If you are observant you should be able to spot a
small natural arch high on the east wall of the Gulch
near the confluence with Pollys Canyon, and there
are at least two Anasazi ruins on the canyons
west side as you approach Big Man.
The Big Man Panel is
about 200 feet above the canyon floor and it is not
visible from the trail, so it is easy to miss if you
are not paying attention to the map. About 1.2 miles
upstream from Pollys Canyon you will see another large
side canyon coming into Grand Gulch from the east.
Beyond this point the streambed swings around to the
west to get around a bulge in the canyons eastern
wall. The Big Man Pictograph Panel is located precisely
at the apex of this bulge, where the streambed straightens
out again and then swings back to the east. If you
watch carefully as you walk this section of the trail
you should see footprints where other hikers have
left the trail to climb up to the pictographs. The
main trail follows the east side of the streambed
in this area. If you see the trail crossing back to
the west side it means you have gone too far.
When you see the pictograph
panel it will become obvious why it was named Big
Man. The central focus of the art is two life size
human figures, one of which appears to be a woman
and the other obviously a man. There is also a pictograph
of a woman carrying a baby. But for me the most interesting
part of the artwork is the signature handprints of
the artists. Many pictographs of the Southwest include
such handprints. The Big Man Pictographs were probably
made by the Anasazi people who resided in Grand Gulch
between 200 and 1300 A.D., but they could have been
made much earlier than that. Archeologists have long
been frustrated by the fact that no method now exists
for accurately dating such art.
provided by David
Day of utahtrails.com. Click here to order his
Favorite Hiking Trails.