Mittry Lake Wildlife Area (K-8298) and Kofa National Wildlife Refuge (K-0177)
For the past month or so I’ve been in Yuma, Arizona again for work. If you go back and look at some of my previous posts, you’ll note that I travel to Arizona semi regularly. While I’m there I sometimes (not always) get weekends free, and in those times I like to play a little radio.
For most of my previous POTA activations (and field radio activities in general) I’ve been reliant on end fed half wave antennas. I usually run these antennas into local trees and configure them as either slopers, or I raise both ends and run them horizontal. In my last post I talk about the Buddipole system I recently reassembled, and this setup has been fantastic. I love this new found ability to head out to a park, find a good operating spot, and not have to worry about trees or any kind of ‘in situ’ antenna mount. However, this is clearly way too much equipment to pack in a suitcase and bring on a plane (the painters pole ‘mast’ by itself is 8 feet long, and then there’s a lot of PVC/CPVC fittings, whip antennas, etc). I was really thinking about this problem since I really wanted some kind of field ‘mast’ in Arizona. Arizona is famous for not having very many trees at all (especially Yuma, where I was), and this was really limiting where I could operate, the amount of time for setup, etc.
While packing my bags the night before I was due to leave I happened across a YouTube video by Walt, K4OGO on his Coastal Waves & Wires channel where he mentioned a cheap and easy setup that he sometimes operates with when he is travelling in Poland.
Walt’s YouTube channel is great by the way, I highly recommend falling down the rabbit hole of his back catalog.
This antenna idea was exciting to me since crappie poles are pretty generic and non ‘radio specific’, so it seemed reasonable that I should be able to source that and a fishing pole holder locally in Arizona, removing the need to find a mast that could fit into my luggage. I had a bunch of leftover 16 gauge speaker wire that I had tried (and failed) to use while reassembling the buddipole, so I set about cutting and soldering some quick antennas for 15 meters and 20 meters. Both sets of wire had one driven element and five counterpoise wires, terminated with automotive connectors. I already had a BNC wire breakout, so I threw that in my radio bag and put the rough cut antennas in my luggage. These were truly rough cut since I was doing all this while I was packing the night before I left. I didn’t tune them before I left, and instead just packed my NanoVNA around and tuned them in AZ.
Usually when I go to Yuma I actually fly into Phoenix, rent a car, and drive the three hour drive into Yuma proper. Yuma is fairly small and Phoenix is a huge city, so Phoenix has a much better and more reliable selection of rental cars, flight times, etc. They also have a Bass Pro Shop (and a Cabelas, I was surprised), so after landing in Phoenix I did a quick stop by Bass Pro to buy a crappie pole and a fishing pole holder. Unfortunately the longest crappie pole I could find at the store was an Uncle Buck’s Deluxe 13 foot pole. This would work fine for the 15 meter vertical but was too short to support 20 meters.
On Saturday of my first weekend I woke up early, packed up my gear, and headed to Mittry Lake Wildlife Area (K-8298). I’ve worked this park before (it is actually the very first park I ever activated) and was very comfortable with the place, so it seemed like a good park to test and tune a new antenna. I had to cut a little bit to get the dip of the 15 meter quarter wave in band, but honestly I was really amazed at how wind banded this setup was! This is a truly unbalanced anteanna, I was just running two sets of wires into a BNC splitter, with one of them being the counterpoise wires. Even without cutting, I was almost 1:1.5 across the entire 15 meter band. I cut a little bit to put the dip where I wanted and then set about operating.
For my first activation I operated strictly SSB since I was still feeling a little rusty on my CW. However, with just two hours of operation spread across a three hour period I ended up activating the park twice (UTC day shift), with 58 QSOs across the two activations. And all that with only around 15-20 minutes setup, and no fuss about any trees. This was exciting!
With how successful this activation was, my new short term goal was to brush up on my CW and make at least 2-3 CW primary activations while I was in Arizona. Also, hopefully activate a new park. Whether or not my Saturdays are free while in AZ is constantly in flux, so I wasn’t totally commited to the new park, but I did want to get my CW back up to spec. I spent the next week listening to Morse Code Ninja podcasts during my commute to get my CW ear back in the game, and went back to Mittry Lake again the next weekend. Complete success! I actually ended up activating Mittry Lake a total of five times while I was in Yuma, with the last three being entirely CW. I did find that my SWR would start getting a little crazy if I ran the full 20 watts of the G90 into the antenna while operating CW, but had no issue if I kept my power to 10 watts. My SWR was unaffected if I was operating SSB at 20 watts, so I think it’s a power thing. There’s probably an obvious reason why this happens (it is a truly unbalanced antenna, I don’t even have a common mode choke on it), but I still need to do my research.
Going into my last week in Arizona I was a little bummed that I hadn’t gotten the opportunity to activate a “new to me” park (the timeline just hadn’t allowed for it). While we didn’t have any weekends left, we were getting out of work somewhat early, so I thought maybe if I throw all my gear in my car every morning, maybe we’ll get out of work early enough one day where I can high tail it to a park and activate it before the sun goes down (I was restricted to 15 meters after all). Finally, on my last Wednesday, we got out of work early enough that I was able to make it into Kofa National Wildlife Refuge (K-0177), and I had my gear setup about an hour before sunset. I was so hurried that I forgot to get any pictures of the activation, sorry about that! But it was successful with 18 CW QSOs.
Beyond just the amazing activations and the ease of set up that this system allows, I was really amazed about the DX. Over the four CW primary activations I ended up hitting Alaska, Spain, and Japan multiple times! I was NOT expecting that kind of DX out of a ground mounted quarter wave vertical. I guess the sun cycle is really on the way up!
My gear list for the activation was: