Conundrum cabin no longer human- (or cow-) friendly
September 5, 2012
ASPEN – It’s unlikely there will be people partying or cows dying in the old cabin near Conundrum Hot Springs any longer.
The U.S. Forest Service removed the tin roof from the structure over the course of the summer and recently finished the job, according to Andrew Larson, lead wilderness ranger in the Aspen-Sopris District. For now, the plan is to allow the wooden frame of the cabin to deteriorate in the harsh weather at 11,200 feet in elevation.
The cabin gained notoriety last winter when it was discovered that six cows froze to death inside after apparently seeking shelter during a snowstorm. The cows were among 29 that wandered into the Conundrum Valley from the Crested Butte side of the Continental Divide. They wandered off a Gunnison-area rancher’s grazing allotment for unknown reasons. The rancher’s efforts to find them, by air and ground, were unsuccessful.
The cabin doesn’t have any doors or windows, but the roof provided shelter from the elements. The cattle wandered in and never left. Six other carcasses were found in the surrounding forest in the spring.
Long before the cow catastrophe, Forest Service officials debated what to do with the cabin, which once served as a guard station at the popular hot springs. The cabin is roughly 1,000 feet away from the hot springs, which are deep in wilderness, so they can only be reached by foot. The trailhead is southwest of Aspen. The springs and cabin are about 8.5 miles from that trailhead. Roughly 2,200 people hike the gorgeous valley each year to soak in the soothing springs under the stars.
While the cabin was once the guard station in pre-wilderness days, it’s now considered “an attractive nuisance” by the Forest Service, said Scott Snelson, Aspen-Sopris District ranger. It’s been out of character since the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area was created in 1964 and detracts from the wilderness experience, he said. Designated wilderness areas are supposed to have a minimal amount of human-built structures.
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The management direction for the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness has been to allow the majority of cabins and ruins in wilderness to “fall into ruin at the hands of the elements,” according to a 1998 implementation plan for the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
The Conundrum Hot Springs guard station warranted greater attention than the average cabin. It was evaluated in the 1980s for historical significance but found not eligible for the National Register. It was re-evaluated during the cow incident by the Forest Service and Colorado Historical Society but again was found not to have special standing, said Martha Moran, of the Aspen-Sopris District.
Forest Service research indicates that the cabin was built in the 1910s, Larson said.
The cabin has plenty of fans. An informal group called Friends of Conundrum Hot Springs has lobbied the Forest Service over the years not to destroy the structure. Members argue, among other things, that the cabin has provided welcome shelter in high-altitude storms. It’s also hosted a fair number of slumber parties.
Larson said wilderness isn’t a place intended for shelters. Forest Service officials made the decision to remove the tin roof to hasten deterioration of the structure. But the cabin’s not out of the woods, so to speak. Snelson said he still might consider demolition.
“That’s a decision I’m going to defer,” he said, noting that the agency is working on numerous, more pressing issues.