Honorable Mention: Cow carcasses cause concern at Conundrum Hot Springs

Aspen Daily News Staff Report
Aspen and the Conundrum Hot Springs received national attention of a different sort when it was reported by this newspaper that more than a dozen cows were found dead, frozen solid, at the popular camping and hiking area.

Six cows were discovered by two Air Force Academy cadets when they snowshoed up the 8.5-mile trail in March. They planned to spend the night in Forest Service cabin, but couldn’t because the animals were piled up inside.

They notified officials with the White River National Forest, who faced their own conundrum of how to get rid of the carcasses.

A Gunninson-based rancher had lost 29 of his cows the previous fall, and at least 12 of them ended up at Conundrum, succumbing to the elements.

 Chris Council/Aspen Daily News
Andrew Larson, the lead wilderness ranger for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District for the White River National Forest, left, and volunteer Alexandre Roy move a deceased cow away from the cabin at the Conundrum Hot Springs in May.

Forest Service officials had first contemplated using explosives to blow up the carcasses or burn down the cabin. Instead, three of the rancher’s friends hiked up to 11,200 feet in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area above the Castle Creek Valley, butchered the cows in the cabin, and then scattered the remnants away from the hot springs and camping area.

Of the other remaining cows, one carcass was pulled out of Conundrum Creek by Forest Service rangers and the remaining five were left to decompose where they were found.

The Forest Service urged the public to stay away from the Conundrum area in the spring and early summer to allow nature to take care of the cows, and also as a health precaution.

After it was first reported, the Forest Service fielded dozens of calls from media outlets around the country and world, including CNN and the BBC, that reported on the cow conundrum at Conundrum.

— Carolyn Sackariason