Just in time for the busy Memorial Day weekend, a popular swimming hole on Lake Powell known as the “sweet spot” lost some of its appeal this week after two cows had become stuck in the mud near there and were euthanized.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area closed the cove near Lone Rock Beach to swimming Thursday after it was “deemed unsafe for recreational activities due to potential exposure to decaying cattle carcasses,” the park said in a news release.
The busy beach popular for dispersed camping is on Wahweap Bay in southern Utah just north of the Arizona line off U.S. Highway 89.
The two cows were in Greenhaven Wash, immediately south of the sweet spot, when their legs got mired in soft sand rimming the shore of Lake Powell on May 9, according to Ken Hyde, Glen Canyon’s chief of science and resources. Because of the dry conditions on the range, cattle are accessing the lake in search of water.
“They sunk pretty deep. You can imagine a 1,200-pound cow sinking up to its belly,” Hyde said. Park staffers and the rancher’s efforts failed to extricate the animals, which were put down.
Now that the lake level is rising with spring runoff, the dead cows are in the water, necessitating the closure.
Hyde actually hoped for the water to come up faster, which would have facilitated the cows’ eventual removal. But Utah’s thin snowpack has slowed the spring rebound of the depleted reservoir, currently filled to 52 percent of its normal capacity.
“There is no way to access the cattle with equipment from the shoreline. Now that the lake is coming up, we are hoping next week we can get in there with a boat,” Hyde said. “We think can get close enough so we can get a rope or chains around them. It is not going to be a pleasant experience.”
The portion of the cove marked off with yellow buoys is closed until further notice. Kayakers are advised to stay away. Bracing for big crowds this weekend, the National Park Service issued a water quality advisory for Lone Rock, asking visitors to practice safe sanitation, wash hands often and shower after swimming.
This week’s incident is not the first time Utah’s federal land managers had to close popular recreational sites because livestock got stuck in places they shouldn’t be. Twice in recent years, cows became trapped in slot canyons in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, forcing managers to keep hikers out.
In 2014, a cow died after becoming wedged between the rock walls of Peek-a-Boo Canyon, leading to a failed attempt to burn out the carcass.
Both the monument and the national recreation area, which abut west of Lake Powell, allow extensive cattle grazing. Livestock roam about half of Glen Canyon, or 650,000 acres in about two dozen allotments.