AAR Parks on the Air — K-10387 Joe Crighton SRA

This was my KX2 station setup at K-10387, Joe Crighton State Recreation Area. Shot with iPhone 13 Pro Max.

I was up early Wednesday morning to see Older Son off to work. He leaves the house about 0630h and I like to get up and spend an hour or so with him as he readies himself for the day. I have a cup of coffee and chat with him and DiL. She also gets up to spend time with him before he heads off and her day starts.

DiL runs the Springfield Barnes & Noble, so her hours are variable. She sometimes leaves just after Older Son. And sometimes she leaves much later. That is the nature of retail work. But she always gets up with him and I respect that.

After he leaves I sometimes return to nap for a few more minutes. It all depends on how well I slept the night before. As I age, I find that sometimes I do not sleep as well. I am sure my experience is not unusual.

Fortunately, my work permits me a lot of flexibility. I like that and take advantage of it.

But, Wednesday morning I warmed my cup of coffee and sat at the desk. A hydraulic model I am working on completed late last night and I wanted to review the work and decide what to do next. In reviewing the results, I had good ideas for what needed to be done. So, I got started on it. I worked until my brain rebelled, so I decided it was time to take a break.

DiL had returned to bed, so I got a shower and dressed for my day. That brought Sera out to see what I was doing. I decided I needed a waffle in my face and Sera could tell I was moving with purpose.

So, she went with me. We drove up to the Waffle House and I had sausage and eggs and a pecan waffle. I saved some of my sausage and my hash browns for Sera. She was very excited when I returned to the rig with a treat. 🙂

We drove home and I returned to my hydraulic model. I finished the amendments about noon and started a run. Once the preprocessor finished developing the solution grid and the computational engine started, I knew it would be a few hours before I had any results.

That meant — I had a few hours to play. The weather was gorgeous so I decided to get out and activate a new park. Sera and I headed out, I bought a sandwich and a bottle of water, and we arrived at the park in a few minutes. I got lunch and Sera out and we shared my sandwich and chips. She sniffed around while I deployed an antenna.

It took four or five tries to get a line over a branch. This is a new skill for me and I can tell I need practice judging where to aim to get the line over the branch I want. But the equipment I have is just about right for the light wires that I typically use.

I setup the little Elecraft KX2 with the Tufteln end-fed random wire antenna, connected directly to the radio. I brought a small Bioenno LFP battery, which I connected. I also brought a N3ZN key along as well. It took longer to get the antenna setup than any of the other equipment.

I had a cellular signal, so I was able to spot myself on the POTA website with my iPhone. I also used my iPhone to log contacts with the HAMRS app. I find it easy to log on the iPhone, although I am sometimes a bit fumbly and fat-finger the text.

I have a CQ message stored in the radio, so I set it off to call while I finished getting ready to take calls. And take calls I did. Even running just five watts of power, I worked a pile-up on the 20m band for nearly 45 minutes. When the hole was fished out, I changed to the 17m band, found an open frequency, and started calling. The Reverse Beacon Network picked me up and the POTA scraper respotted my activation at the new frequency.

I worked another pile-up for another half hour or so.

One thing I noticed was that my passband was a little too narrow. I had it set that way during my last activation, probably trying to improve the signal-to-noise ratio or because another operator work working on a nearby frequency. Nonetheless, I could hear a couple of station outside the passband, so I opened it up a bit so I could copy the signals and worked those callers too.

After a couple of hours, I had 32 or 33 contacts in my log, plenty for the activation. The sun was starting to get low in the sky and I still wanted a walk before the day ended. I also needed to attend to the model run and see what needed to be done, if anything.

It did not take long to recover the station and we were off towards home.

When Older Son arrived, we got The Girl out for a good walk. We got home just after the Sun fell below the horizon.

As usual, I learned a few more things.

  • Using an arborist throw kit is a learned skill. I need more practice to get the weight and line over my target branch. It is just practice.
  • I really like the lighter throw weight and the 1.7mm or 1.8mm line that I got on my second buy. The first kit is too heavy for what I do. The lighter kit will be perfect for the light wires I use and is a lot less weight and bulk to carry, should I decide to pack the kit in.
  • I need to work with the Tufteln EFRW antenna more. I could not get a good match on the 30m band (10MHz) with the KX2 and the EFRW antenna connected directly to the radio. This should work. I have an adjustment to make, I think.
  • The little KX2 is a fine radio for this kind of application. It is not as good as the larger KX3, but it is a lot smaller rig.
  • I should have used headphones for the activation. There was enough traffic noise to be distracting and interfere with my ability to copy the calling stations. I do not like to be isolated from the surroundings, however. So I have to get my powered headphones setup to wear while running the radio. They are also active ear protection, so they have microphones to provide situational awareness with control over the balance between communications and environmental sound levels.

All in all, it was a good day. I am grateful. Life is good!

Parks on the Air

Shot with the Fujifilm X100V.

A couple of weekends ago I decided it was time to not work all weekend. On Saturday morning, The Girl and I headed out, not knowing where I might end up. We walked for an hour out at Silver Saddle Ranch, then headed east on US 50. I was on the phone with my buddy Dick and indicated that I needed to get out and do something away from the house.

At first, I thought I would drive down to Yerington and activate the wildlife management area north of town. But, as I turned south on US 95, I decided that either Buckland Station or Ft. Churchill were both closer and needed to be activated.

Buckland Station won the coin toss. I parked the rig and looked for a place to deploy a wire. Seeing none, I retrieved the drive-on mast mount and the 10m SOTAbeams mast from the rig and set them up. I also retrieved the Elecraft KX3 and a small battery from the rig.

A little wider shot of the Buckland Station deployment. The KX3 is in the foreground and the SOTAbeams mast, random-wire antenna, and part of the drive-on mast are in the background. Shot with iPhone 13 Pro Max.
I used the Sagebrush Antenna deployed to near vertical with the distal end affixed to the top of the mast. The opposite end went to a cobrahead adapter and direct to the radio. I threw the counterpoise on the ground around the rig.

I sat down at my folding table with my back to the sun (it was chilly), started a log on my iPhone (HAMRS), and listened on 20m near the QRP watering hole of 14.060MHz. With nothing heard, I called QRL? (“Is the frequency in use?”) a couple of times, then hit the message button to transmit “CQ CQ POTA DE AG7TX AG7TX POTA K” a couple of times, then paused to listen for a caller.

The KX3 station setup at Buckland Station for a POTA activation. Shot with iPhone 13 Pro Max.
While the radio was sending my general call, I spotted myself on the POTA network. After a few minutes, the calls began to come in. I worked each station as I could and even managed a few DX (foreign country) contacts. The most memorable being an OH1 station located in Finland.

I worked the bands for an hour or so and made my quota for an activation. I was cold, so The Girl and I headed home after a brief pit stop.

The door of Buckland Station. This is what arriving travelers and Pony Express riders would have seen a hundred years ago. Shot with Fujifilm X100V at f/8 with Reggie’s Portra film simulation.
I woke Sunday morning again not wanting to spend the day working. So I puttered a bit over my morning coffee and then decided to get The Girl out to walk and do another POTA activation.

I grabbed a snack because my blood sugar has been falling unexpectedly, some water, and a battery for the radio. We loaded up into the rig and headed west to Spooner Summit. I pulled off onto the forest road and parked the rig at the staging area where I like to work.

The Girl and I then headed out to walk before I set up a radio. Again, I talked to my buddy in Montana as I walked. But I kept my eyes open for critters as I have seen a big coyote who is not afraid of humans several times.

She was ready to rest when we returned to the rig, so I gave her some water and put her in the 4Runner. She settled right down for a nap in the sun.

I retrieved the new line-throwing kit from the 4Runner, stretched out the line, and affixed the throw weight. After four or five throws, I was unable to hit my target branch. Instead of fumbling more, I retrieved the drive-on mast mount and the 10m mast from the rig and setup a wire antenna. I again used the Elecraft KX3 barefoot (10-15w of power) and set up my table and chair.

A wind had come up, maybe gusting to 10–15mph, but variable direction. It was kinda-sorta from the south, but was curling around to the point I could not get shelter.

So I put on my heavier hoodie, put my back to the wind (and the sun), and worked the radio. The higher bands have been good lately, so I started on 10m and worked my way down.

Again, it took an hour or hour-and-a-half to make my activation quota and work the bands dry. The sun was falling lower in the sky and I was cold, so I quit.

It did not take long to put away the station and get The Girl out for a last bit. She looked for critters and peed until I called her in and we got into the rig.

It was another good day and a good day for me to get outdoors. The Girl loved it, too.

I learned a few more things.

  • I need practice with the throwing kit. I suspect there is something of an art to using a throw weight and line to hit a particular target.
  • I need some kind of shelter for cool-weather activations. I looked at a fishing hut last year, but did not buy one. A small fishing hut that folds up would make a good operating shelter. I could deploy a heater (I have one) and place a mat for The Girl.
  • My principal reservation about a hut is the lack of windows. I like being outside because (in part) I like the sun and the light. I do not want my activation shelter to cut those things off.
  • I need the means to heat water and make coffee, tea, soup, or a hot meal. I have used the Trangia burner in another stove I have in my inventory. But it is not as handy as I want. Hence, I am working on an upgraded kit and some of the results are posted on this weblog.
  • The iPhone works for spotting myself and for logging, But I think a Rite-in-the-Rain notebook and pencil should be in my field kit. I am thinking again of reducing my dependence on technology, although it is good to be able to spot myself for SOTA/POTA activations.
  • HAMRS is well suited to logging POTA activations. It has features that display other activators and make it easy to log their information for park-to-park chasing.
  • I am not sure I ever documented my post-processing of POTA logs. Most of my activations are multiple parks, at least two. I have a couple of favorite places that are three or four park activations. That means the post-processing of my log requires some editing so that chasers get credit of more than one park. I also get credit for activating multiple parks.
  • The new field cooking kit is coming along. I will have the ability to make a hot drink or food in the field. This is a critical safety issue as hypothermia is real and it does not have to be very cold for it to strike. Hot food and drink are part of combating environmental dangers effectively.
  • I am really enjoying Morse Code. I still operate phone part of the time. But the ability to deploy a small radio kit and make contacts thousands of miles away with a few watts means everything is smaller, lighter, and simpler than a more powerful radio kit.

That is all I can think of. It was a good couple of days in the field. Life is good.

Before I left the park, I walked around Buckland Station for a few captures. This one is of the north-facing side of Buckland Station. Shot with the Fujifilm X100V at f/8 with Reggie’s Portra film simulation.

Testing my Field Kit

Boiling water with the Firebox Nano 2.0Ti and a Trangia burner. Shot with my iPhone 13Pro Max.

My Haley Strategic Flatpack Plus arrived yesterday. I bought (yet another) small tactical pack because I want to carry a few things in the field with me and a small camera bag. I want a pack that can carry the necessaries and a small QRP radio kit (if desired). I want to be able to carry a small camera bag cross body1 under the pack.

After the ham radio exam session yesterday, I came home and retrieved the pack from the parcel box. Well, that is, after getting The Girl out for a walk. It really is a small pack with an expanded capacity of about 700 cubic inches. (Flat is is closer to 100–200 cubic inches.) It has two compartments, a bladder pouch, and a small flat pouch. The latter is good for a small tarp or a flat paper map, folded (or both, I suppose).

Aside: I am a Volunteer Examiner for the American Relay Radio League. That means I am certified to proctor an amateur radio license examination and the FCC will accept the result.

I bought two of the clear top pouches, a large and a small. The inside of the pack is lined with a loop field, which means appropriately fitted pouches will affix to both the back of the pack and the inside of the large compartment top. One of these pouches will contain a set of clean clothes — shirt, undies, and socks. I will have a change of clothes. The second pouch (the small one) will catch something; I have not figured that out yet.

There is plenty of room for my small cook kit (the stove is above) so I can heat water for coffee/tea or to hydrated freeze-dried food for a hot meal. I have a small bottle to carry alcohol fuel for the Trangia burner. I will work on some of the remaining components today, but am thinking that a small medical kit (more than a boo-boo kit) to supplement my EDC pouch (cargo pocket), a small fire kit (to create warmth or cook), a small radio kit (one of my QRP rigs, plus battery and wire antenna), and cordage to put up a shelter (the tarp) will round it out. I can carry a water bottle(s) or put a small bladder in the bladder pouch.

The coffee I made by boiling water with the Firebox Nano 2.0Ti and an Aeropress. Shot with my iPhone 13Pro Max.
Last night (early this morning), I was awake so I used the stove to heat water for tea. I then decided to use it again this morning to heat water for my coffee. The little burner works fine, but might need a wind screen for the field. I have a small bag to carry makings for coffee and tea. I could add a packet or two of soup mix without adding much weight.

Today I will determine whether (or not) I can carry a small Domke camera bag cross body under the pack straps and still have access to the camera. My camera will be either the Fujifilm X100V or the X-E4 (and a spare lens or two). The cameras are really small, so the bags are small, too.

This might actually work, be reasonably light, and provide routine and light emergency capability in the field when I am hiking with Sera or playing a little radio on a remote summit or a park. I am looking forward to getting in to the field today, even if the weather is quite a bit colder than it has been.

Also, the last of the camper parts are on the way. I hope to have it repaired in a week or two and plan to get out and do some camping before the end of the year.

Sera is snoozing under my worktable. It is a welcome sound. Life is good.

1I carry camera bags and cameras (on straps) cross body because I absolutely cannot stand to have anything hanging around my neck.

Daily Image — 10 September 2023

I love textures. This old log attracted my attention with the combination of surface texture and the play of light on the surface. I made the capture with a Fuji X-E4 and a Voigtlander Ultron 27mm f/2 at f/8. I used the Kodachrome 64 film simulation.

The Girl and I are hiking up near Spooner Summit a lot lately. It is cool up there. The lodgepole pines give a lot of shade and I love the sound of the wind in them. The risk of snakes is less than it is in the sageland. There are lots of things to photograph and the offering changes often with the change in light.

The area was burned a few years ago. Many of the trees are undamaged. But there are plenty of downed trees that can be interesting (both for The Girl and for me). There are also lots and exposed rocks that provide interesting textures.

It will take me a while to exhaust the area of photographic subjects.

On this particular day, The Girl and I hiked our regular trail from the staging area. She sniffed about looking for critters while I explored visually. I found this downed tree and like the texture and play of light across the surface. I made the capture. Post-processing was light with a little change in contrast and a little boost to the color.

When we returned to the staging area, I setup a radio station and activated the park. The site is also a designated Parks on the Air site (actually it is a double — two parks). It was a good day. I am grateful. Life is good.

Parks on the Air AAR

The Girl and I stopped briefly at the south side of Mono Lake for a short break. There is still a lot of snow in the Sierra Nevada.

This week I was tasked with travel to Southern California for a field walk. The project is just getting started and doing a site visit is a critical part of forensic engineering.

I activated Manzanar National Historic Site for Parks on the Air. The place is a testimony to the mistreatment of Japanese-American citizens about 80-years ago.
On the way down, I stopped at K-0845, Manzanar National Historic Site. In 2014, Ki and I visited Manzanar on our way back from Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, where I had a project. It was in January, so the weather was good for a visit to Death Valley, which we did. On the way north we spent an hour or so at Manzanar, walking the site and taking in what we, as a country, did to our Japanese-American fellow citizens. It was wrong. The site feels wrong.

Be that as it may, Manzanar is also a designated Parks on the Air park. I wanted to activate it. And time spent outside the rig for a few minutes is always good on a long trip. Sera got out of the rig for a run around while I got out the station. It was hot enough and there was enough traffic that I put her back in the rig.

I setup my folding table and chair under the rear hatch. Sera found a spot in the back out of the sun. It did not take long to put out an antenna and get the station on the air. In less than an hour I made my activation running 15 watts. I put everything away, gave Sera a drink, got one myself, and we got back on the road.

We spent the night at a Best Western in Sherman Oaks. It was noisy with city energy and the neighbors had a small dog that barked. This irritated Sera… she growled and grumbled several times that night. I rested some, enough to be up early to deal with accumulated email and the market.

There is a Denny’s in the facility, so I got some coffee and breakfast. Of course, I took The Girl some of my bacon and sausage, plus a couple of scrambled eggs for her breakfast.

It took about 45 minutes to get to the site and a couple of hours to see what I needed to see. I visited with my clients a bit, then headed back home.

Wisely, I had a reservation for a hotel in Lone Pine, California. This is about halfway between the site and home. I knew I would not want to drive all the way home after spending the morning on the site. So I did the easy thing and stayed over.

The Girl and I had a nice visit of the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area in Lone Pine, California. I also activated the park.
I checked out early Friday morning, got Sera out for a little constitutional, and then bought a biscuit and a coffee from McD’s. I shared my biscuit with Sera and drove over to K-8300, Alabama Hills National Scenic Area, another designated park. I found a spot to setup the station, got Sera out for a bit. Again, there was a little too much traffic so she had to stay in the rig. But it was cool in the morning so it was not too bad.

Again, I had my quota after about 45 minutes. The 20-meter band was the go to band for this activation. I worked an Indonesian station and that surprised me. But DX is always welcome.

I put away the station and was able to make a meeting (virtual) using my iPhone at 1100h local. That did not last long, so Sera and I puttered a bit before heading north towards home.

At the north end of Independence, California (I think) is a BBQ place called the Copper Top. It was lunch time as we passed, so I turned back and bought a tri-tip sandwich. With pickles, onion (red onion), and a few jalapeños (and some sauce) it was good. But it was not as good a slow-cooked Texas brisket. I shared a bite of sandwich with Sera, of course.

Then it was time to slug out the home stretch. I was tired, of course. I stopped a few times to stretch, give Sera some water, and get her out of the rig. Still, it was a tough slog.

I learned a few things, of course.

  • I need to either add another set of blue Voile straps, or add a longer set of Voile straps to the antenna kit. The blue straps were not long enough to go around the 4×4 or 6×6 posts at the Alabama Hills site. I had to double the blue straps and then find a rock to keep the mast in place.
  • I really think it would be better to log on the computer than my iPhone, particularly for POTA activations. The larger screen of the computer is simply easier to see.
  • In addition, I was checking the Reverse Beacon Network for my spots. RBN is a great way for CW and digital operators to determine whether their signal is getting out to the spotter stations. The spotter stations decode the signals they hear and post the calling stations callsign, mode, signal strength, and speed to the webpage. If I am spotted, then I know the station is working because other stations are receiving my transmissions. It would be a lot easier to have multiple browser tabs open on the computer than it is to flip back and forth between tabs on my iPhone.
  • I prefer a more leisurely activation, one where I have (and take) time to operate multiple modes and work through all the open bands to take the calls of the park hunters.
  • But, when traveling, it is also a good break to stop for an hour, make at least ten contacts, be out of the rig for awhile, and get Sera out too. This type of activation has a place as well as the more deliberate, longer activation.

In all, the radio play was a nice break from the drive. I gave a few hunters an opportunity to chase a couple more parks. And Sera got a chance to be out of the rig for a while too. It was good. Life is good.

Washoe Lake SP AAR — 18 June 2023

 

A little wider view of Washoe Lake and my operating position.

I had not intended any radio play when I rose Sunday morning. But, after getting some work done and then getting The Girl out for a walk, I sat at my work table thinking about what I should do and what I wanted to do.

I have an antenna provided by a colleague in The Tech Prepper Discord channel. It is intended for NVIS (near vertical incident skywave) operations, which is a useful tool for regional communications. The ability of a station to reach others in a range from local to about 500 miles out (or so) is critical for emergency communications.

It turns out this is a useful range for park activations (and summits).

NVIS uses frequencies below about 10MHz, which includes the 30m, 40m, 60m, 80m, and 160m amateur radio bands. I often see other activators using 60m, which is in the 5MHz range and is often available during the daytime hours.

But… I really did not feel like working that hard. (That is, working at testing an antenna.) I have been so busy the last few months that I am a bit burned out. I had a lot of fun in Missouri with my family and working parks on my way out and on my way back. But, there was quite a bit of pressure to get back and get work done (another report).

The report is nearly done (review comments on Monday) and another project will be completed shortly thereafter. But the bottom line is that I am mentally fatigued and need to regroup and recharge.

Field Day will be the coming weekend (24–25 June) and there will be some camping. That will help. But the following week is travel to SoCal for another field walk, then reduce results from that and prepare for upcoming field work.

So, OK, enough whining. The bottom line is that I wanted to get outside (the weather is gorgeous), maybe play a little radio, and not do anything like work.

At that point, I found myself stuck in a mental loop. The question “What do I want to do?” was quickly followed by “What radio do I want to take?” I went round and round, mentally, and could not make a decision.

Eventually, and this took some time, I decided to use whatever was already in the rig. I got Sera and we headed out. I bought a sandwich to share with Sera on the way and we drove up to Washoe Lake State Park (K-2640).

Portrait view of my operating position and Washoe Lake in the background.

I was astounded by the amount of water in Washoe Lake. I know we had a lot of snow over the winter (the melt is not yet done), but all of the areas I normally use were under water. I found a little bit of dry ground, set up the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 in its vertical configuration (thought about using a wire, decided to use the vertical), and setup the ELecraft KX3 with the KXPA100 amplifier.

The island in the water is usually dry and I often setup the station near it… not on this trip. Probably not on any trip in the near future either.

I talked to my buddy Dick a bit while getting equipment out of the 4Runner. But I had to end the call to work on the station. I forgot my earbuds.

The bands were a little noisy. The Sun is busy right now, although the geomagnetic field of the Earth is relatively quiet. I set the radio to calling CQ and spotted myself.

None of the higher bands produced any calls. I had only one on 15m. When I got to the 20m band, things perked up. I worked a couple of nice pile-ups and found I could still copy Morse Code. I struggled with my sending, though. My key kept slipping on the surface of my folding table.

I quit about 1630h local (before we turn over a new day on UTC). It did not take long to put away the station. I got Sera out to play a little. She wanted to get in the water, but I did not want to have a wet dog in the rig… nor did I feel like using the towel on her and getting her all rowdy. (Heh)

In the end, it was a good day. I left with 28 contacts (plenty for my activation), a good deal of Sun and fresh air, and a happy dog.

I did learn a few things, as usual:

  • I really need to have a plan for these outings.
  • My propensity to get caught in a mental loop will be averted if I make such a plan.
  • I need to plan for experimental time, such as testing of the antenna provided by a friend. This is more like work, but is necessary if I am to learn more about radio.
  • The back of my rig is now disorganized. I need to spend some time sorting out the gear in my 4Runner and using the space efficiently.
  • The top of my folding table is too slick for the Begali Traveller key. I need a pad of some kind in the kit for this key. I could have gotten out the N3ZN key and bracket for the KX3 and used it. (It will not move because it is attached to the radio.) But I was already in the thick of the activation when I noticed the key moving.
  • I encountered the usual number of LIDS who will call, send their exchange, and then assume I copied them and logged them. I do not log these callers.
  • I know I had one operator who had a similar call to another I was working. He/she will think I logged the contact; but I did not because I did not copy their call or their exchange.

It was still a good day, even with the mental loop that trapped me for a half-hour. I enjoyed the outdoors. Washoe Lake is beautiful with all the water. The weather is absolutely gorgeous this spring — it is hard to believe it is nearly summer. We are usually much warmer by now. But, I will take it! Life is good. I am grateful.

Contact map for the 18 June 2023 activation of K-2640, Washoe Lake State Park.