On Thursday, 28 July 2016, I decided to make a day-trip to southern Arizona. I went to a grid that isn't terribly rare, DM42, and planned to operate from a couple of National Parks on the Air sites around Tucson. I have enjoyed working other satellite operators who have operated from the NPOTA sites, and have tried to do my small part to put NPOTA sites on the satellites. With AO-85 and SO-50 passes during the day, those passes helped me work enough stations at each site to have two more official NPOTA activations.
After leaving home early Thursday morning, I drove to the western edge of Saguaro National Park, near Tucson. Saguaro National Park has two sections, on the west and east sides of Tucson. I decided to work from the western half of the park, since that made for a shorter drive, and I was confident I could find locations that would let me work both western and eastern passes. With a fuel stop near Tucson, I made it to the first of the three spots I would operate from - along a road near the western boundary of the national park - in under two hours.
The first pass was a western SO-50 pass around 1550 UTC. I expected more stations to show up, even on a Thursday morning. I worked the only two stations I heard: NP4JV in southern Arizona, and VA6OK in Alberta. As I wrapped up working this pass, I had a visitor. Jim KB7YSY, who saw my post to the AMSAT-BB on Wednesday (27 July) evening. Jim lives very close to this part of Saguaro National Park, and had e-mailed me earlier Thursday morning asking where I was planning to go. Jim also saw my APRS track, so he was able to find me easily. We chatted for a few minutes, and Jim mentioned a picnic area that he thought I might want to use. More on that later.
After that SO-50 pass, I had about 90 minutes until the next two passes I planned to work. I went to the visitor center, so I could put the stamps for the park in my passport, and then drove along a road on the north side of the park. I needed to find a good spot with a great view to the east, for the passes around 1730-1830 UTC. FO-29 was passing by at a maximum elevation of 11 degrees, and AO-85 was only going up to a maximum elevation of 5 degrees.
After about 45 minutes of driving around, I found an intersection where I could pull off the road and have a good view to the east. With the western portion of Saguaro National Park being in the Tucson Mountains, this was no easy task. I was able to hear myself through FO-29, but made no QSOs on the 1735 UTC eastern pass. Maybe I should have tried the western AO-73 pass at that time, which was a 19-degree pass. Then came AO-85 at 1805 UTC...
I have been reading on Twitter about how NP4JV has been working low AO-85 passes from southern Arizona. I figured that I could make a try at doing the same thing, if I had a good spot. It turned out that I found a great spot for the 5-degree pass. I made 5 contacts in the middle 3 minutes of the 9-minute pass. It seemed easier for me to work this 5-degree pass, compared to some passes at higher elevations.
After the AO-85 pass, I had just over an hour before the next pair of passes, FO-29 and AO-85 again. I grabbed a sandwich at a Subway just outside the national park, and then visited that picnic area Jim KB7YSY mentioned. The picnic area was just inside the national park boundary, and was perfect for these two passes around 1915-2000 UTC. FO-29 was going to rise to a maximum elevation of 76 degrees, followed by AO-85 going up to a maximum elevation of 63 degrees. FO-29 had some activity, and I was able to work Endaf KG6FIY in California and George WA5KBH in Louisiana. Unfortunately, I couldn't work the other 2 or 3 stations I heard, but two contacts were better than zero contacts on the earlier FO-29 pass.
AO-85 at 1940-1955 UTC had a great crowd. Once the satellite rose above the mountains south of me, I was able to work 9 stations across the continental USA and Canada. I had a visitor stop by while I was working the pass, wondering if I was tracking animals. I explained that I could track animals, but I wasn't doing that. I also mentioned the National Parks on the Air program, the reason why I was operating from the park. If not for the NPOTA program, I wouldn't have been in the park at midday, with the temperatures already up to 106F/41C outside.
With the 9 contacts I made on AO-85, I had a total of 18 contacts with 13 different stations. This made my visit to Saguaro National Park an official NPOTA activation, having worked at least 10 different stations. Instead of trying to work the next AO-85 pass at 2123 UTC from here, I drove north about 40 miles to find a spot for the next NPOTA activation I hoped to make.
Northwest of Tucson along the I-10 freeway is Picacho Peak State Park. This park has two bits of history associated with it. Picacho Peak was the site of the westernmost battle in the US Civil War. Not a big battle, but a small bit of US history in Arizona a half-century before becoming a US state. Almost a century before the Civil War battle, the Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza led expeditions from Mexico through what is now Arizona and California, up to what would become the city of San Francisco. Picacho Peak was used as a camp for the de Anza expeditions, and is within the corridor defined by the National Park Service for the de Anza National Historic Trail.
The 2123 UTC AO-85 pass favored the west coast, with a maximum elevation of 17 degrees. After driving through the Picacho Peak park, I parked at the westernmost trailhead in the park. From there, I worked 5 stations up and down California, and one station in Oklahoma, in about 10 minutes. Logging 6 stations on this pass made me confident I could work 4 more different stations on the later SO-50 pass, so I could count this stop as another NPOTA activation.
Now in the mid-afternoon, the outside temperature was up to 109F/43C. I had hoped to go in the visitor center at Picacho Peak to kill some time, and get the NPS passport stamp for the de Anza National Historic Trail at Picacho Peak. I had to wait about 30 minutes for the rangers to come back to the visitor center. I did not care about fuel economy for my car between passes, as I was using my car's air conditioning to have a cool place to escape the heat. When the visitor center opened up, I was able to get those passport stamps. Unlike most national parks, the stamps were kept behind a counter, and I had to ask for them. Not many apparently ask for these stamps, probably not realizing that this state park is also part of a rather large National Park Service unit (the de Anza trail).
With the passport stamps out of the way, I found a spot at the eastern edge of the park with a nice view to the northeast. I had an SO-50 pass coming at 2244 UTC, with a maximum elevation of 18 degrees. From Picacho Peak, this meant a pass that would cover almost all of the continental USA. With the earlier AO-85 contacts, I figured I should be able to get 4 contacts on this pass. Not only did I get the 4 I hoped to log (that was done in the first 2 minutes of the pass), I worked a total of 14 stations. Thirteen of these stations were across the continental USA, and one was in Cuba (CO6HLP). This pass alone was more than enough to make this stop an official NPOTA activation. I logged 20 contacts between the two passes, doubling the minimum number I needed for an activation (10). After putting my gear back in the trunk of my car, I drove home.
All QSOs made from these two locations have been uploaded to Logbook of the World. If anyone would like to receive a QSL card for a contact made with WD9EWK on Thursday, please e-mail me with the QSO details. Please note that anyone participating in the National Parks on the Air activity must use LOTW, as ARRL will not accept QSL cards for any awards connected with this activity. Thanks to everyone who worked me at these two sites! Despite the hot weather, it was fun to activate two different NPOTA sites in the same day, all via satellite.
Patrick WD9EWK/VA7EWK http://www.wd9ewk.net/ Twitter: @WD9EWK