Conundrum Hot Springs show no ill effects from cow carcasses |

Conundrum Hot Springs show no ill effects from cow carcasses

Max Vadnais/Aspen Times file

ASPEN – There are no signs the cow carcasses found near Conundrum Hot Springs this spring have contaminated the water of the popular destination, the U.S. Forest Service said Tuesday.

“Water-quality tests on the hot-spring pool and tributary stream revealed E. Coli and fecal coli form counts that exceed drinking-water but not recreational water-quality standards for both sources,” said Andrew Larson, lead wilderness ranger for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. “This is consistent with the majority of previous test results.”

Larson said no additional cow carcasses have been found since May 3. Initially, six dead cows were discovered in an old Forest Service cabin less than one-half mile from the Conundrum Hot Springs. Another six carcasses were found in and around the designated campsites near the hot springs once rangers were able to scout the area.

The cows were part of a herd that belonged to a longtime rancher in the Gunnison area. They were on a grazing allotment on the Crested Butte side of a divide from the Conundrum Valley. Somehow, the cows crossed the divide in late fall and perished in cold weather. The rancher reported that 29 cattle were missing. It’s unknown where the other 17 ended up.

Larson reported that Forest Service rangers returned Monday from a four-day patrol to Conundrum Hot Springs. No new carcasses were found in the area, and “no signs of large carnivore activity were observed in the area,” Larson wrote in an email. The Forest Service was initially concerned that the dead cows would attract bears and other predators. The Conundrum trailhead was marked with signs warning that bears and contaminated water could be a problem.

The Forest Service is reminding hikers that all campfires and smoking are prohibited anywhere on the White River National Forest because of the extreme fire danger. In the Conundrum area, dogs are prohibited within 2.25 miles of the hot springs.

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