Picacho State Recreation Area
For the past week I’ve been on a work trip in Yuma, Arizona. I’ve been in Yuma many times before (actually my first POTA activation was K-8298 Mittry Lake Wildlife Area) but I still saw this as a great opportunity to play radio, if time allowed. There’s been a park that has eluded me the past couple of times I’ve attempted it, K-3532 Picacho State Recreation Area. This park is actually in California, a “new to me” state for activations. I have attempted it twice before in March of this year, but never successfully.
There are a couple of rough elements regarding this park. First and foremost, at least from Yuma, it is a bear to get to. If you look at the Google Maps route shown below it seems fairly simple, just a long drive out to a site. What is not illustrated very clearly in this route however is that it is almost entirely offroad. To get to the park from Yuma you’re driving about an hour offroad over hills and through riverbeds. The second big hurdle, you’re in Arizona/Southern California. If you’ve never been in this area before let me help: it’s hot. Brutally hot. Fatally hot. It will easily creep into the 90F range in the winter. In the summer, it is honestly a weird day if it’s not at least 110F. If you plan on stranding yourself well off the beaten path, in 100 degree weather, in a place where your car could very easily breakdown…. well you should probably be prepared.
About a week before I arrived in Yuma there were some torrential storms in the area which is highly unusual. Storms, or even a light rain is a weird experience in this environment. The ground is simply not calibrated to absorb water. It doesn’t know how. The whole environment is built around being dry, so when you introduce even what we would consider a light rain in other areas of the world you end up with flash flooding, erosion, and all kinds of other problems. I’ve seen rain water get underneath asphalt out here and simply carry away chunks of road. So these storms had occured about a week before I got here, and the last time I had been out to Picacho State Recreation Area was March of this year. The drive was significantly worse then I was expecting. I wish I had taken pictures, but I was honestly scared to stop my car for fear that I’d get bogged down in sand and wouldn’t be able to get going again. I can say confidently that the drive from Yuma to the park was some of the roughest driving I’ve ever done. If you don’t have four wheel drive, don’t even think about it. If you do have four wheel drive, still be prepared for the worst. I had a Toyota 4Runner that I kept in 4WD high the entire time, and I was still praying the whole way. An ATV is probably your best bet. That said, this trail is popular in the Jeep Offroading community when it’s in it’s normal, non eroded state.
With all of that doom an gloom out of the way, lets talk about the good aspects of this park. It is beautiful. When you finally get through all of the mountains, dry river beds, 100 degree heat, etc, you arrive at a very nice park. They have two separate picnic areas along the Colorado River, and at least one of them has multiple shaded areas to picnic (aka play radio) in. I set up in the “lower” picnic area. Unfortunately I don’t have any images from this activation (I was really trying to get the activation and go), but I do have some images from March 2022 when I previously attempted this. I set up in the exact same area today.
When I arrived at the park I set up my Par End Fedz EFHW running in a horizontal configuration from the top of a nearby tree to the top of the shelter that I was operating under. I had previously scheduled my activation (I set it up for the whole day). The RFI is great out there, I was getting less then one S unit across all of 20 meters. What wasn’t great was that after calling CQ for 45 minutes, I wasn’t getting a single response. This time I knew that my radio was okay (well, I didn’t know, but I figured), because I had done multiple rounds of tuning on this antenna, I had my NanoVNA out there to check SWR, and I had scanned the band on the antenna before keying down. Still though, after an hour of CQ, I only had one passing QSO.
I figured that (improbable) the Reverse Beacon Network was down or (probable) the POTA spotter / RBN link was down. I know now that I was getting all kinds of RBN hits, but I don’t know if the POTA/RBN auto spotter was down since your spot goes away after around 20-30 minutes of no operation, and it takes at least an hour to get back to cell phone service from the park.
After about an hour I had two CW QSOs. One was KF8IV who was just randomly calling CQ so I responded. The second (WM4Q) was calling CQ SKCC, so I put my G90 into manual mode and responded with manually generated code (and exchanced SKCC numbers). I could not get a return from my CQ POTA. I tried CQ POTA for awhile longer and netted two QSOs that way, but still didn’t get the kind of pileup that I would expect. Finally, after about an hour and a half on air and only four QSOs to show for it, I started scanning and hunting/pouncing all over the band.
I was committed to activating this park, especially after making that crazy drive out here. To be honest I wasn’t sure how I was going to drive back, so I just told myself that this park was going to happen. It so happens that the Kansas State QSO party was happening on the same day as my activation, so I starting tuning around the SSB portion of the band and making QSOs with the Kansas State QSO Party special event stations. In the midst of that, I also make a park to park SSB QSO with KE8SZL, who was activating K-0426 in North Dakota (a new hunter state and a new hunter park for me). Finally, for my tenth QSO, I was able to barely squeeze in a SSB QSO with NH7NJ in Kapaa, HI! He could barely get me over the noise floor, and I had to repeat my call about five times, but we made the QSO! How great is a SSB QSO with Hawaii while you’re on the mainland!?
So propagation wasn’t great today, and I’m honestly kinda surprised that I made the activation. But we made it, and now I can say that I activated a park in California. And made it back to tell the tale! What a great day!
My gear list for the activation was: