Round Trip Distance: 6.4 miles
Elevation: 5047 - 5667 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 3 hrs.
Fee: $2/person ($5-$8/camping)
Attractions: Cliff dwellings, rock art
The Government trail is located in the Cedar Mesa Area west of Blanding, Utah. It begins at a spring where it crosses an area known as Polly's Pasture before descending about 400 feet into the canyon of the Grand Gulch. Since around 2.6 miles of the 3.2 mile long trail is spent crossing Polly's Pasture the Government trail is one of the easiest access points for Grand Gulch. The descent into the canyon follows switchbacks and a long traverse with portions of the trail having been drilled and blasted. An interesting pictograph panel with 4 kokopelli figures is close to the main route part way into the canyon.
The Government trailhead is about 55 miles from the town of Blanding, Utah. To get there drive south on US Highway 191 for about 4 miles and turn west onto UT-95 toward Natural Bridges National Monument. Follow UT-95 for 28.4 miles and turn left onto UT-261. Continue south, passing the Kane Gulch Ranger Station where there is a small Visitor Center and restrooms that are accessible 24 hours, for 13.6 miles and turn right across from the Cigarette Springs Road and follow County Road 245. Take the right fork at 2.5 miles to stay on CR245 and take another right at 7.3 miles. From here it is another 1.5 miles to the trailhead. The road becomes much narrower and a high clearance vehicle is required for the last 1.5 miles.
The area around the trailhead almost looks like an oasis with reed grass, various bushes and cottonwood trees. The trail is narrow as it leaves the parking area where it enters a wilderness study area and works it way through the thick foliage.
After a short distance the trail continues toward the Grand Gulch along a double track.
As the trail continues it gets closer to Polly's Canyon and begins arcing to the left. Way off in the distance on the north side of Polly's Canyon a couple of granaries can be spied under an overhang. This picture was taken with a 900mm zoom lens. The picture is a little blurry but the granaries might be a good 1 mile away at this point.
The Government trail gradually loses about 200 feet of elevation as it cuts across Polly's Pasture.
Around the 2.6 mile point the trail reaches the rim of the canyon and begins its descent.
Directly across the Grand Gulch is an area known as Polly's Island were the stream once traveled around the other side before it changed course to where it is now leaving a massive sandstone butte. Near the top of the island a cliff dwelling can be seen below an overhang.
The basic route the trail takes into the canyon can be seen in this photo which was taken after the initial descent from the rim. At the point the trail begins its long traverse along the bench that is about halfway down the slope you can hike a short distance to the right to see the rock art panel or if you are coming back this way you can wait until the trip back to check it out.
Even though portions of the trail were blasted out of the cliffs and other construction was done as well don't expect a sidewalk to follow. They did just enough work to make the descent manageable.
The trail enters the wash of Grand Gulch across from Polly's Island and a little downstream of the mouth of Polly's Canyon. There are several primitive campsites in the area if your intention is to use this as a base camp for further explorations. There are points of interest both upstream and down. The one thing that isn't very interesting is hiking around Polly's Island. The backside is a thick tangle of tall brush with nothing of note to see for the effort.
We outlined the rock art panel on our computer to make the faded images standout. The images aren't so faded that we couldn't see them from the trail a few hundred feet away. Note the 4 kokopelli figures that almost look like they are laying on their backs. Some of the images are very similar to ones found at other sites in southwest Utah.