Officials near Conundrum Hot Springs have a literal conundrum on their hands -- what to do with several frozen cows stuck in a cabin?
The six cows are wedged inside a small cabin. The Colorado Cattlemen's Association said the cows likely wandered in seeking shelter during a storm and weren't able to figure out how to get back out and starved to death.
Two U.S. Air Force Academy cadets made the discovery while hiking Conundrum Pass between Aspen and Crested Butte in late March. The cadets tell 7NEWS they initially thought they stumbled upon a sleeping bear.
"We decided we were going to snowshoe to Conundrum Hot Springs near Aspen," said cadet Marshall Kay, 21, a junior at the Air Force Academy.
"When I walked up to the doorway there was a head," said junior Air Force cadet Cameron Harris, 20. "It scared me. I thought it was a bear initially."
"Cameron got there first and he says, 'Ah, I think we're going to have to sleep on the snow tonight, man. The cabin's full of frozen cows,'" said Kay.
"There's no way we're staying here tonight. The floor is covered," said Harris to Kay during their hike. "And he's like, 'What are you talking about?' and I was like, 'Well, there's dead cows in here.'"
"I didn't know what the heck he was talking about," said Kay.
"For us, it was quite odd. Everything was weird for us at the beginning., Harris said. I mean, we're two Texas boys.
Forest Service Considers Blowing Up Cows With Explosives
"Finding cattle in a cabin, frozen, is quite unusual," said Steve Segin, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.
Segin said the dead cows in the cabin now create a nuisance and a thorny issue concerning how to remove them.
"It's 8 miles in. It's within the wilderness, so we can't use any mechanical means. No aircraft, no helicopters, no chainsaws, no ATV's," said Segin. "They are prohibited."
So the forest service is considering blowing up the cabin, along with the cows inside.
"We have animals, particularly bears, that are coming out of hibernation. We have these cows that are beginning to defrost. They're going to be scavenged. The area's heavily used by recreationalists. We don't want a bad encounter between people and wildlife," said Segin.
Blowing up dead animals that are too difficult to hoof out is not unprecedented. Decades ago Oregon blasted a beached whale right off the shoreline. That didn't turn out so well for some, with huge chunks of blubber landing on the cars of onlookers.
Harris and Kay got a kick out of the explosives plan.
"I kinda want to see it," said Kay. "It sounds like it would be pretty cool, but I don't know. I don't know what else you could do with them."
Kay and Harris both said the hike is very difficult, especially in spring conditions, so to have rangers haul the carcasses out of the area -- either on foot or with horses -- is going to be a challenge.
"It's a beautiful hike, but it's definitely a grueling hike," said Kay. "Especially spring conditions, the snow's pretty soft."
"We're running against the clock," said Segin of the explosives plan. "Things are beginning to warm up, the cows are beginning to defrost."
The U.S. Forest Service is also considering burning down the cabin, but there is currently a fire ban.
A third option would be to leave the cows and let nature take its course. But, Segin said that's the least likely option, because that's the option that would attract wildlife and might lead to dangerous encounters between people and predators.
The forest service is still trying to locate the rancher who owns the cows.
The cabin sits at about 12,000 feet, well above the normal grazing range of cattle. Segin said 29 cattle were reported missing last fall from the nearby Gunnison National Forest.
Officials also want to act fast to stop any water contamination in the nearby hot springs if the cows start decomposing during the thaw.
The cabin is located near the Conundrum Hot Springs, a 9-mile hike from the Aspen area in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area. Time magazine rated it one of the 50 top authentic American experiences in 2008.
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