The 2016 Summer Plans Are Shaping Up

It looks like the summer plans are coming together. In an effort to capitalize on the success of last summer’s trip, this summer’s agenda is a bit more aggressive. 60 days and eight national parks: Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Zion, Grand Canyon’s North Rim, Bryce Canyon, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton.

I got the last reservations I needed on Friday. Yosemite seems to be the odd duck when it comes to reservations due to its popularity and scarcity of campsites in the Yosemite Valley. Last summer we were able to make only a day trip to the Yosemite Valley and had a wonderful time. But we only saw just a tiny bit of what the Valley can offer, not to mention anywhere outside the Valley.

For this summer’s trip, we have reservations for a few days at a campsite on the valley floor. Yosemite will be our first national park this summer. After Yosemite, we will head south to Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Park. Although I grew up in California and attended Boy Scout camp near Kings Canyon, I have never actually been there. Then we make our way to Zion National Park followed by the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Heading back north, we will spend a few days at Bryce Canyon National Park. This area of Utah, Arizona, and Colorado is loaded with national parks. Some folks spend the summer making the “Grand Circle Tour” seeing all of them. Our Grand Circle Tour will have to wait until another summer. I have never been to Zion, Bryce, or the Grand Canyon. Our visit this summer should give me a good idea about this area and I will know if I will want to come back again to see other national park gems like Mesa Verde, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef.

Finding our way back to I-15, we will head north, north, north…. up to Glacier National Park. Glacier was on of our stops last year and Glacier rivals Yosemite in beauty (my opinion). Glacier also has a lot less people. We will spend a week on the west side of the park and then a week on the east side (even less people). There were lots of things we did not have time to see last year and there are many things we would like to see again. We have reservations at St. Mary Campground now, but I would be thrilled to get one of the first-come first-served spaces at Many Glacier Campground. We’ll see.

Back on I-15 and heading south, we will find our way to the northern entrance into Yellowstone. Yellowstone was another park we visited last year and I am looking forward to this return trip. We are starting our stay at the Canyon Campground, located centrally on the eastern side of the figure eight loop. From here I hope to explore the Mammoth Hot Springs and the old Army garrison. We will probably make one or two twilight trips into the Lamar Valley to see the wildlife (at a safe distance). Then we move down to Grant Campground, located on the western portion of Yellowstone Lake. I would enjoy a day trip out to the Norris Geyser Basin as well as exploring Lewis Lake to the south.

Our last national park this summer will be Grand Teton. This year I have reservations at their RV park on Colter Bay. This place has full hooks up for our trailer which may be helpful as temperatures climb a bit in July. We never got to explore much of Jenny Lake or look around the Moose Visitor Center which has a few attractions nearby.

Then we’ll make our way back home to Kansas.

A few goals for this summer’s trip:
– Have fun and make sure the schedule does not become oppressive. The time alloted for Yosemite, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton should allow for a relaxed schedule.
– Balance taking pictures with having fun. I usually error on the side of not taking pictures in order to make sure I am enjoying “the moment”. I think there is a balance. There are those who spend their vacation looking through the screen of a cell phone as they swing around a selfie stick. Not for me.
– Make a few NPOTA contacts. I plan on getting an HF rig installed in my vehicle by mid-March. My intent is for casual operation and to keep a paper log.
– I have toyed with the idea of using my PACTOR III modem to allow for an email capability. There are many locations I will be this summer that does not allow for cell or internet access. If I can design an easy way to integrate the modem into the mobile setup, testing it with a mini-laptop and am sure it will work without issue… I may do this.

Grand Teton National Park – June 2015

Mid-America RV Show

We went to the Mid-America RV Show in Bartle Hall at the Kansas City Convention Center. All kinds of RVs, from micro light travel trailers to million dollar buses.

I enjoyed looking at the Class A motorhomes. These are the size of a Greyhound bus. Inside, the enmities are breathtaking. Washer/dryer. Walk in closet. Full-sized shower. Tile. Everything made me think of what the presidential suite in an upscale Las Vegas hotel would look like.

Our ideal RV is a travel trailer:
– not longer than 25′
– has two axles
– bunk beds
– queen sized bed
– slide out for the dinning area

Picking an RV is definitely a matter of trade offs. It all comes down to what you want to be able to do with your RV. Live in it full-time? Spend the winters in Florida? Attend NASCAR races? Visit the in-laws? Right now, our goal is to have an RV to support summer camping trips to national parks.

Camping in national parks generates a number of requirements:

(1) limitations in length. Most national parks have relatively small campsites. If the campground has larger sites, they tend to be few in number…. maybe only one or two. Greyhound buses are off the list. Campsite options open up with a trailer under 25′ in length.

(2) no hook-ups. No electricity. No water connections. The trailer needs to be able to dry camp (or boondock) for a week.

(3) for touring the actual park, there can be limitations in vehicle size. Again, no Greyhound bus. It makes life a lot easier to leave a travel trailer at the campsite when touring a park then trying to maneuver around even a Class C motorhome and find a parking spot.

I have my own requirements:
(1) RV storage. We can use the storage lot at our local military base which is steeply discounted. This comes with size restrictions. If we get a longer RV that could force us to store off post, generating a significant increase in our current storage fees.

(2) Using my current vehicle as the tow vehicle limits me to only travel trailers. The tow vehicle can pull a bit over 8000 lbs but it would be best to limit the weight to only 2/3 of that capacity.

(3) The wheelbase of the tow vehicle is 112″ (9’4″). When researching on the internet, the general rule that you find is that for a wheel base of 110″ you can tow a 20′ trailer. For every additional 4″ to that wheel base, you can add one additional foot. Others say that by adding a weight distribution hitch and sway control, the general rule can be bent to a certain degree. Our current travel trailer is 21’8″. Using our weight distribution hitch and sway control, there have been no issues. Another important factor that is mentioned is the actual weight of the tow vehicle (heavier being better). The tow vehicle weighs in at 5765 lbs. (about 500lbs heavier than my old Toyota Tundra). I feel that I could comfortably pull a trailer that was slightly longer than what we currently have (up to 24′).

(4) I would feel safer pulling a trailer with two axles. If a blowout occurs on one of the trailer tires, I believe it would be easier to minimize the issues inherent with a blowout if there were another set of tires. With only one axle, if you loose a tire I think you could anticipate significant axle damage (at a minimum).

There is the option of getting a larger tow vehicle. A larger tow vehicle would generally allow for a longer travel trailer. Dedicating a pick-up to haul a fifth wheel is another option. However, I am currently happy with my tow vehicle and want to remain in the limits of the vehicles capabilities.

So.. what is wrong with our current trailer? Honestly, what we now have works fine. Two draw backs of our current travel trailer (2014 Coachmen Clipper 17BH) are (1) the bed size and orientation and (2) the small space for the dinning table. Generally – the space gets tight inside if all four of us are in there.

Here are some possible candidates to replace the Clipper 17BH:

Rockwood Mini Lite 2306 (23’7″)
201BHXL Cruise Lite FS Edition (23’7″)
Keystone Bullet Crossfire 2070BH (23’10”)

All of these models use a Murphy bed for the master bed which allows for side access. During the day, the bed is pulled to a vertical position leaving a coach underneath. This opens a great deal of room inside the trailer. All these models also have two axles and significantly larger refrigerators.

NPOTA: ARRL’s Best Idea?

The National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) is off and running. Making contact with a handful of stations currently operating from NPOTA locations has made me wonder if the ARRL has had a good idea with NPOTA as a way to help celebrate the anniversary of the National Park Service.

From ARRL: “Throughout 2016, Amateur Radio will be helping the National Park Service celebrate their 100th anniversary. Hams from across the country will activate NPS units, promote the National Park Service and showcase Amateur Radio to the public.”

I am a huge fan of both the National Parks and the National Park Service. Anyone who is interested in the history of our National Parks would be well rewarded to start with the Ken Burns documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Yellowstone generally gets credit for being the first National Park back in 1872. However, the National Park Service was not established until 1916. That period in between provides us a very good reason that there are times when we need a government organization to protect us from ourselves. During that in between period, the Army was given the mission of attempting to protect both Yellowstone and Yosemite. Like most missions the Army received, they were underfunded, under equipped, and undermanned. They did, however, do the best they could to protect these amazing areas. Many Americans saw these new National Parks as areas for economic exploitation. If it wasn’t for many individuals working long and hard for the establishment of the National Park Service, it is very likely we would not be able to enjoy the parks we have today. Stephen Mather and Horace Albright were the two primary individuals who secured the establishment of the National Park Service. Ken Burns talks about these two individuals in his documentary and there are also a few books that do a great job telling the story (Creating the National Park Service: The Missing Years and The Birth of the National Park Service: The Founding Years, 1913-33).

Yosemite: President Theodore Roosevelt, left, poses with John Muir for pictures on Overhanging Rock at the top of Glacier Point, near which the men camped in a hollow and awoke to five inches of snow in 1903.

The National Parks exist for our enjoyment. Generally that enjoyment manifests itself in some type of hiking, camping, fishing, watching for wildlife, or learning about history. This interaction between Park and citizen can be passionate, emotional, revitalizing, inspirational, and an educational experience.

With all that being said, I was a bit surprised to hear stations making contacts for NPOTA locations like it was a contest. Each NPOTA location is identified by a letter-number combination. No discussion of where they actually were. No description, no discussion. It is a bit sad to see there is a Leader Board – which only facilitates looking at NPOTA as a contest rather than an actual celebration.

I also wonder how these activations are impacting those non-amateur radio enthusiasts who are visiting a NPOTA site. Is this putting amateur radio in the best light?

Are these NPOTA activations promoting the National Park Service or showcasing Amateur Radio to the public?

If so, how?

What would Stephen Mather and Horace Albright think about NPOTA?

It will be interesting to see how NPOTA progresses over the coming weeks and months.

Notes from the shack

Over winter break I have been putting in a lot of time behind the radio. Here’s the wrap up:

First – more DX. In general, this is a good time of year to catch hams behind their rigs. Some contacts that I am particularly proud of:

4U1WB, The World Bank in Washington D.C.
ZD7DL, St Helena Island
WH6S, Kauai
C5YK, The Gambia
9H5BZ, Malta
MI5AFK, Northern Ireland
FG5GP, the island of Guadeloupe
ZS6TVB, South Africa
EA8DAZ, Canary Islands
VP2ETE, Anguilla

Second – working a lot of DX. There is the 90th anniversary of the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) special event activations. Plenty of good DX participating in this and working multiple bands.

Cuba
Bermuda
Finland
Germany
Aruba
Venezuela
Jamaica
Ireland
Italy
Slovenia
Brazil

Third – working Santa (aka AA4EE) on Christmas Eve. The girls really enjoyed telling Santa what they wanted. Thank you Santa!

Four – joining the OMISS and the 3905 Century Club nets. I am not sure if I fully understand these nets. I get the convenience in pursuing Worked All States awards. That makes sense. However each club also has an additional bevy of other types of awards. The actual contacts during the nets seem a bit unfulfilling. But I may not yet fully understand these nets. I need to thoroughly read all the literature.

Five – Log of the World: I have uploaded the vast majority of my logs. I mentioned before about uploading my YI9MI logs. I also went back and uploaded my log from KD7PJQ back in Virginia. The logs from Korea (HL2/AD7MI and HL9MI) are now uploaded. All my logs using AD7MI have been uploaded.

The Final Courtesy

Finally!

I have been known to procrastinate now and again. One thing on my to do list was uploading my log from Iraq (YI9MI) to Log Book of the World. When I initially tried to do it a few years back (my operation was 2007-2008), I had difficulties getting a certificate despite having the correct paperwork from the Iraqi government approving my operation.

Now that I am on my Winter Break, I decided to re-engage and was met with extraordinary help by ARRL’s Norm Fusaro, W3IZ (aka Mr. Log of The World). I emailed him my paperwork and he immediately turned around and emailed me back my certificate. Huzzah! But not quite yet….

I tried to upload my log, but none of the entries would parse. :-(

At the time of my Iraq operation, I was using HRD for my logging and had an HRD generated .adi file. I decided to load that file into fldigi and then export it back out as an .adif – not sure if that was the trick, but the log parsed! Hazzah!

Hopefully I delivered early Christmas presents to any individuals out there who were waiting for a YI entity for an award. I am so relieved to finally get that log uploaded and into LoTW.

Every now and again I still get a QSL card to confirm. I have a nice hard copy of the log printed out which allows me to confirm the contact and record that I am sending out the confirmation QSL card.

If you think I still owe you a YI9MI confirmation either by QSL card or LoTW – please let me know.

Time to get in Line

Excitement in the shack! We’ve had a new addition. I have had my Elecraft K3 for quite a while. Nothing but positive words about it. It has never let me down.

We’ve all heard about the K-Line. I am assuming that the term K-Line is an omage to the Collins S-Line.

Through my research of MARS, I know that the Collins S-Line was the choice of MARS stations. Collins even had a repair shop located at the major air base outside of Saigon.

Although I have never operated any Collins gear, from what I’ve read it was built like a tank but clearly was designed to have aesthetic appeal. Elecraft is aiming to achieve the same.

I’ve started my attempt at building my K-line with the addition of the Elecraft amp and tuner. Both easily interface with each other and the K3. This allows for seamless band switching and tuning.

While only a 500 watt amplifier, I have already noticed an notable increase in my ability to make contacts and get to the top of the pileup. Band conditions helped, I’m sure – but it was still enjoyable making contacts with South Africa, Findland, the Canary Islands, and Aruba. Stateside contacts have also seemed to be easier to make with a little extra punch.

WW1USA


I had the opportunity to be a guest operator at WW1USA today. WW1USA is a special event station located at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, MO.

There was a request for operators that I saw on Larry’s List. Larry’s List is an awesome resource for hams in the greater Kansas City area. Not just another email list-serv, but a truly valuable resource in understanding what is happening in the area. From community events, swap-n-shop, club meetings, weekly nets to nearby hamfests – Larry’s List is one stop shopping for everything you need to know about amateur radio in Kansas City.

I read about the opportunity to sign up for operator/logging slots during this weekends activation of WW1USA and thought it would be a neat opportunity.

Arriving about 10 minutes before my shift started, I was immediately directed to a position and asked to start logging for an operator working contacts on 20 meters. The brief instructions I received was to log the callsign, name, and state of the contact. I think I recognized the logging program as N3FJPs logging program for Windows. I had used this program before during Field Day 2009 with my dad, KD6EUG.

As I adjusted into the chair, my ear turned towards a speaker, my fingers pecking away entering callsigns… I noticed there were not any radios here! Each of the operating positions were laptops, using HRD to control a rig at a remote location. Pretty cool. As I believe it would have been fairly difficult to raise antennas on top of the museum and then route feedlines down to an operating room, the planners of this special event used internet connectivity. To be honest, as an operator, the fact that I was not in front of the rig was really not even apparent.

After twenty minutes, I slid into the operators chair and proceeded to work contacts for the next two hours. Again, the planning effort of this operation became evident when I saw a short script in front of me for calling CQ as well as providing answers on how calling stations could QSL the contact. When a station at the distant end asked for more information about the reason for the special event, I was handed another card which talked about commemorating the failed Gallipoli campaign.

I had a great time making contacts: stations all over Canada and the United States. What a fun time!

Notes From The Shack

Friday, November 27th

Had a good day in shack. Was able to get a good portion of it cleaned up. Filled up a trash bag and a big box of “stuff” I just do not need.

Fired up the HF rig and ran it through it’s paces. Had a Phone QSO with a station down in Costa Rica and worked a few stations around the US on PSK-31. Enough to let me know the rig is still working. Listened to my favorite bunch of old timers who meet weekday mornings (8AM) around 7.140 MHz. I’ve never joined in, but used to listen to them all the time from my mobile when my work hours were a bit different. Nowadays I don’t get the opportunity to hear them.

For the last few weeks I have been trying to square away my VHF/UHF setup. My embedded EchoIRLP node has consistently suffered from pulsing. I have tweaked about every software setting and radio setting possible but was unable to fix the issue. It looks like the pulsing generally correlates with my APRS signal. I use a Kenwood TM-D710A in the shack. A computer with UI-View32 is driving the left half of the TM-D710A, sending and receiving APRS data. The right side I usually dedicate to the EchoIRLP node which is normally set to a simplex UHF frequency. I started to notice that everytime UI-View32 sends out my position or weather report, my EchoIRLP node would pulse. I honestly think the rig is the issue.

What I like best about the TM-D710A is that I can use my one antenna that I have mounted off my chimney. The TM-D710A allows me to use both the APRS and EchoIRLP at the same time. But I think that pulsing issue will keep me off IRLP reflectors or Echolink conferences unless I disable UI-View32 and the TM-D710A’s TNC while I am using the reflector/conference.

I upgraded my version of fldigi. I made sure my log and settings were backed up and the upgrade went without significant issue. I was able to setup the WX macro function, which I have been meaning to do. The macro pulls the latest WX from Kansas City International Airport (MCI) and allows me to slide that into a PSK-31 QSO via macro. I wish it could pull the data right from my WX station. Not sure how to do that.

I setup my D-Star DV Access Point Dongle – hadn’t done that in a while. I am consistently unimpressed with the audio quality that I get listening to the D-Star reflector on my ICOM IC-92AD. The audio is very metallic and tinny.

APRS has taken up a bit of my time lately. I enjoy playing around with my Yaesu VX-8GR. I am amazed at the different ways you can send a message from the APRS system to an email address. I have improved my ability to work the VX-8GR to input text for a message.

I figured out how to get my UI-View32/TM-D-710A setup to only digipeat APRS packets from either my callsign or the XYLs. That comes in handy when I have the HT. One thing I have not been able to figure out is how to get my UI-View32/TM-D710A setup to digipeat packets destined for my HT’s SSID. For example, if I send a message from my HT, it is digipeated out through my UI-View32/TM-D710A setup and picked up by a nearby real digipeater. But when the “Ack” packet comes back, my HT won’t hear it and I am not sure how to get my UI-View32/TM-D710A to recognize that packet and digipeat it.

Did I mention the humidity sensor on the Davis Vantage Pro2 is not working properly?

I checked into a net tonight! We have an awesome daily email called Larry’s List that contains all kinds of interesting information about the amateur radio goings on in the greater Kansas City area. From swap and shop, to license testing, and opportunities to volunteer in support of public events to various club activities and nets…. Larry’s List is one stop shopping for anything you would want to know about what is happening. The list mentioned a net conducted from a repeater setup on top of the VA hospital in Kansas City (KC0VA). I decided to check in and was privileged to partake in a very interesting discussion about how to handle an emergency if it occurred during a net. I also learned about the Q-signal “QRRR”… which I had never heard or read of before.

Kay Everett Calls CQ

Vanguard Press; First Edition edition (1951)
Pick up your D-104 and Press To Talk for… ADVENTURE! I purchased this book a while back and I finally dug it off the shelf. Kay Everett Calls CQ, by Amelia Lobsenz, is about a young college girl who takes a summer road trip from North Carolina out to the West with three friends, a travel trailer, and ham radio. For me, this book has several things going for it: (1) strong female protagonist (I have two daughters), (2) HF mobile (I need to get my rig installed in my new vehicle), and (3) a travel trailer trip to Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, and the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The plot centers around a jewel thief, who is also roaming the West, and Kay learning about the amateur radio hobby. Ham radio plays a critical role in several places and the author has the main characters explore several aspects of the hobby (… they even go to a hamfest).

The author, Amelia Lobsenz, was an experienced ham, licensed in 1941. After a stent in publishing, she ran her own public relations firm. She based some of the characters on her actual friends, to include Theresa Korn, K7JGU. In the story, Terry, a YL and pilot, takes two of the girls flying over Idaho (aeronautical mobile, where they end up directing smokejumpers into a wildfire). The protagonist, Kay, is named after Ms. Lobsenz’s own daughter.

Ms. Lobsenz used a 1940’s trip out West to serve as inspiration for Kay’s trip. Among the many places the girls go include:
National Elk Refuge National Wildlife Refuge
Grand Teton National Park
Yellowstone National Park
Craters of the Moon National Monument
– The Great Salt Lake in Utah
Rocky Mountain National Park

Amelia became a Silent Key in 1992, but I think her written work will live on.