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Earlier this month a cow wandered into a southern Utah slot canyon. But it won't be coming out in one piece.

Some of it may not come out at all after a rancher's effort to rescue the animal ended in its death, dismemberment and partial incineration.

Now the popular hiking canyon in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is permeated by the acrid odor of rotting meat and officials are trying to figure out how to clean up the mess.

Half the charred cow is entombed in Peek-a-Boo Canyon under dirt and rock that sloughed off the sandstone walls as the rancher tried burning out the bovine remains, according to monument spokesman Larry Crutchfield.

The trouble started Dec. 9 when a monument visitor notified officials of an adult cow trapped in the canyon, which hikers access from the Hole in the Rock road east of Escalante.

Most of the monument is grazed, but dogs and cows are not allowed in Peek-a-Boo or neighboring gulches which drain toward the Escalante River.

Fences cross the monument's range to keep cows out of slot canyons, but they often are damaged during fall storms. Monument officials believe the cow entered through a fresh breach.

Monument staff found the cow in good health, but it was agitated and they made no effort to shoo it out. Piles of feces indicated it had been there for two days.

The rancher who holds grazing permits for the area was notified and he and his ranch hands drove in on ATVs to find the cow.

"That cow [was] worth a lot of money. He's going to do his best to get that cow out," Crutchfield said. "That's a good $1,000 the rancher lost."

The ranch hands tried to drive the cow out of the canyon the way it had come in, but only made the situation worse. After it became stuck, they put it down with a gunshot to the head. Then they cut out the head and front quarters, but the rear half remained wedged in a narrow passage.

Finally, the ranchers piled wood under the carcass and lit it in hopes the flames would consume enough of the cow that it could be pulled out. Instead, debris from above crashed down, putting an end to the comedy of errors.

"We are working to see if we can get any more of the animal out and spread the rocks around. It's still a work in progress. It will be a couple days before it's cleaned up," Crutchfield said.

Besides cleaning up the cow's remnants, monument officials will be rehabilitating damage done by the rancher's vehicles. ATVs are not allowed in the Scorpion Wilderness Study Area. The rancher could face further trouble for driving in an area closed to motor vehicles.

"We could have authorized him to do that because of extenuating circumstances. The concern was getting the animal out," Crutchfield said. "Assumptions were made on both sides. We assumed he would take in horses. Our manager would probably have approved [the use of ATVs]."

Monument staff put signs up at the Dry Fork trailhead warning of the stench. Although the cow is not blocking hikers' passage through Peek-a-Boo, officials are concerned that as the buried carcass decomposes, it could pose a safety hazard when hikers scramble over it.