Paul Andersen: Fair Game |

Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

Visitation at Conundrum Hot Springs is going to spike this summer as black bears flock to the wilderness, where half a dozen cows were fast-frozen last winter in their own walk-in cooler.

Raw beef and hot pools: That’s the definition of a bear spa if I ever heard one. Those lucky omnivores can dine and dip to their hearts’ content as they gather for a smorgasbord luring every bruin within range of smell.

But first a crew of hangdog cowhands had to remove the hibernal Herefords from their timberline tomb, slice and dice them into bite-size pieces and scatter the foul and bloody remains.

Stephen King can popularize the operation in a grisly novel. Hollywood studios can pitch the idea to hungry producers: “It’s the Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets cattle mutilations meets Butcher Class 101! Think of the product spinoffs!”

Aspen won’t have a bear problem this summer, but Conundrum Hot Springs sure will. Once a free feed is put on, bears are not likely to forget it. The potential for bear/human encounters will be epic for years to come. Where else will you be able to share a hot spring with a real live bear? The marketing possibilities are endless: “Get bear at Conundrum!”

While folks scratch their heads as to how the cows got to the hot springs, it’s no mystery to me. Remember, these cows had spent an entire summer in the Gunnison country, a rural backwater with little stimulation, even for cud-chewers. These ranging ruminants were bored with their bovine lives.

All summer long they overheard hikers from Crested Butte who were trudging back home and describing riotous weekends in Aspen, about how they would move there if only they had the urban sophistication to blend with the haut couture of the scintillating Roaring Fork Valley.

These cows were looking for a change of life, and they figured Aspen was the place to find it. When they learned that there were hot springs on the other side of the range, the prospect of a crossing became overpowering. The clincher was learning about the Aspen Idea, the celebration of body, mind and spirit. This was something a purebred Hereford could only dream of. Everything pointed to Aspen, and the cows were pulled like magnets. This is how wildlife migrations begin!

It happened in late autumn, just days before the roundup. This thrill-seeking bunch of renegade cattle bolted over the range and said good riddance to the same old herd mentality. They crossed Coffee Pot Pass, floundered through boulder fields and bogs and discovered a trail that was fresh and new.

Just when they thought they had made good their escape to the Elysian Fields of the promised land, these unfortunate ungulates walked right into an early-season blizzard. They found solace by wading into the hot springs and soaking luxuriantly for a few hours until the aroma of consume convinced them that they were turning into soup.

Wet and cold, they sought the only shelter they could find in the old spring-keeper’s cabin, where they wedged themselves in so tightly that they couldn’t get out. The mercury hit zero, stayed there, and the cows froze – the ones on the outside first, blocking escape for the others.

Months passed before a group of snowshoers discovered the grim spectacle, a horrible heifer holocaust. The hikers tried to crowd into the hut with their furry friends, but there was no room, so they shivered around the camp stove eating limp Ramen noodles a stone’s throw from 5,000 pounds of frozen steak.

Fortunately, the Forest Service came to the rescue with the final solution: blow up the cabin with the frozen cattle in an eruptive geyser of guts and gore! No. A better idea: Burn the cabin and its ill-fated occupants and spew into the air a putrid pall of barbecue bouquet while sending the victims to a vaca Valhalla.

Cooler heads prevailed, and in the true western tradition they’re bringing in the cowboys. These home grown heroes can do the job in penance for losing the herd in the first place. Meanwhile, salivating bears are waiting in the wings for the banquet to begin.

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