My NPOTA Finale

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoWow!  This year sure went by fast.  Back on New Year’s Day, I activated Valley Forge National Historical Park (HP46) on the first day of the ARRL’s National Parks on the Air event.  I thought it only fitting that I end the year where it began.

I had some things to do today, so I headed down to Valley Forge this morning for an early activation.  I pulled into the same parking spot in the Wayne’s Woods area I used on January 1st.  It only took a few minutes to set up my 29.5-foot vertical on the back of my truck and get on the air.

The National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge National Historical Park
The National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge National Historical Park

I started off on 40 meters CW and was quickly met by a horde of enthusiastic chasers.  Business was brisk for about 30 minutes or so.  The 40-meter band was in excellent shape.  My meager 5-watt signal was making it all up and down the East Coast and well into the upper Midwest.

Operating "stationary-mobile" the Wayne's Woods area of Valley Forge. This is the same spot I used back on January 1st.
Operating “stationary-mobile” the Wayne’s Woods area of Valley Forge. This is the same spot I used back on January 1st.

I moved up to 20 meters but the results were disappointing.  Signals were very weak and only one station made it into the log.  I dropped down to 30 meters and worked a handful of stations there before calling it a morning.

My setup in the truck
My setup in the truck

Although I was only on the air for about an hour, it sure was a lot of fun.  There were lots of familiar stations like my friends, Kay N3KN and Carter N3AO, down in Virginia.  It was nice to work Emily KB3VVE, the NPOTA “Cookie Queen.”  I also made 2 park-to-park contacts to boot.  As I was processing my log, I noticed that N4EX worked me on both my first and last activations (and a bunch of others, too).  Thanks to Rich for the contacts this year.

I really have to hand it to the ARRL.  This event was a stroke of genius.  The popularity of this event was nothing short of spectacular.  While I wasn’t the most active participant, I sure had fun.  I particularly enjoyed the camaraderie of the participants on the NPOTA Facebook site.  Thanks to the ARRL for putting all of this together.  I also want to thank the many activators and chasers who really made this event so successful.

I wish all of you a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

First State for the Second Time

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoOne of the things I wanted to do this year was a digital mode National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activation.  With less than a week left for NPOTA, I figured I better get busy.  I had some free time today, so I headed down to Delaware to activate First State National Park (HP12) using PSK-31.  I activated this park once before back in July.

My set-up was very similar to what I used at HP12 back the last time I was there.  I set up my 31-foot Jackite pole on my bike rack and used it to support a 29.5-foot vertical wire.  I fed it through a 9:1 unun with 18 feet of RG-8x coax from my KX3.  The only thing different this time was the addition of my little Linux netbook computer and a Signalink USB interface that I picked up recently.

I started off on 20 meters and quickly worked about 4 stations.  Things slowed down a bit after that.  Looking at the waterfall, I could see the band fading in and out.  After picking up a few more, I moved down to 40 meters.  Although 40M seemed to be in good shape, there wasn’t much activity there.  I worked one very loud station from West Virginia and headed back to 20 meters to finish up.

By the time my laptop battery died (it’s probably time for a new battery), I managed to log 11 stations, just squeaking by the minimum number needed to qualify the activation.  Despite the fading on 20 meters, I managed to cover a good bit of the country including a California station and a park-to-park PSK-31 contact.  I’m sure I could have done better using CW but using PSK-31 was fun and a nice change of pace for me.  Unfortunately, I left the park without taking pictures.

I’m planning to do one more activation before the end of the year. I’m going back to finish the year where I started off on New Year’s Day.   On New Year’s Eve, I’ll be at Valley Forge National Historical Park (HP46) from 1700-1900 UTC.  This time, it will be CW only.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Catoctin, Gettysburg and Eisenhower NPOTA Activations

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoSince the XYL was planning to do some Christmas shopping today, I decided to activate three NPOTA sites.  It was a busy day but a lot of fun.

I started off at Catoctin Mountain National Park (DZ01) near Thurmont,  Maryland.  Brian, N3VN, had emailed me to let me know that he would be there at the same time.  On arrival, I headed to their location in the Chestnut Picnic Area.  I chatted with Brian and Mike W3MBC for a while before heading to the Hog Rock trailhead to set up.  I used my KX3 at 5 watts and my trusty 29.5-ft vertical wire and 9:1 unun.

Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor's Center
Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor’s Center

For some reason, the “dit” side of my Palm mini paddles wasn’t working.  Fortunately, I brought my old NorCal paddles along as a backup.

Once I got my paddle issues under control, I worked a steady stream of stations on 40 meters and a few on 20 meters.  After about 45 minutes things slowed down.  I decided to cut my visit short and move on to Gettysburg National Military Park (MP03) to make up some time.

Gettysburg National Military Park
Gettysburg National Military Park

Brian N3VN recommended a spot at Gettysburg but I never did find it.  I ended up pulling off the road near the New Jersey Brigade monument.  I set up the 29.5-foot vertical and got to work.  Here I again made most of my contacts on 40 meters.  There weren’t many takers on 20 meters so I again left early and headed over to  the Eisenhower National Historical Site (NS13).

At the Eisenhower site, I operated outside the fence along the side of the road.  Many folks have activated NS13 from this spot.  Since there are some overhead utility wires, my 31-foot Jackite posed a bit of a risk.  So, for this site, I went with a 19-foot vertical that I had cobbled together the day before.  I also cranked up the KX3 to 10 watts for good measure.  Because of the shorter antenna, I only worked 20 meters from this location.

Activating the Eisenhower National Historic site. My 20-foot antenna is a bit closer to the utility lines than I would have liked.
Activating the Eisenhower National Historic site. My 20-foot antenna is a bit closer to the utility lines than I would have liked.

Things got off to a very slow start.  I was a little nervous but eventually got the required 10 contacts and then some.  Despite my kludged-together antenna, I worked several stations in western Canada plus one in Alaska.

While I was operating at Eisenhower, I noticed that my SWR was changing a lot.  I had to frequently re-tune the KX3’s internal tuner to get it back down.  As I was taking down the antenna, I found a loose connection on my 9:1 unun.  So, in addition to dealing with the Palm paddles, I have an unun to repair.

Things didn’t always go smoothly but I was happy to successfully activate three sites today.  That made the 2-hour drive home a lot more bearable.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Delaware National Scenic River Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoI made the trip to the Washington Crossing area to activation the Delaware National Scenic River (WR03).  It’s a beautiful area but this wasn’t my best activation.

I had a couple of potential operating locations I wanted to check out.  I first headed up to the Thompson-Neely section of the Washington Crossing State Park in Pennsylvania.  There was a high bluff overlooking the river that was intriguing but didn’t seem close enough to the river.  (In hindsight, I might have been over-thinking the 25-foot requirement.)

I next headed across the very narrow bridge to the New Jersey side.  Intrepid NPOTA activator, N2CX told me about this section of New Jersey’s Washington Crossing State Park.  I passed on the picnic area (one of a couple of bad decisions I made) and continued to explore the park.  I was thinking about heading back to the Pennsylvania side but I wanted to get on the air.

Washington's Crossing, looking from the New Jersey side. The bridge is barely wide enough for two-way traffic.
Washington’s Crossing, looking from the New Jersey side. The bridge is barely wide enough for two-way traffic.

I set up in a lightly-used section of the park in a wooded area on the banks of the river.  I could have tossed a wire up in a tree but I took the easy way out and went with my Alexloop.  Since the Alexloop isn’t exactly a barn-burner on 40 meters, I cranked up the power on my KX3 to 10 watts (gasp!).

Operating on the banks of the Delaware River. I was sitting on a thick, foam pad; otherwise, I wouldn't have lasted too long!
Operating on the banks of the Delaware River. I was sitting on a thick, foam pad; otherwise, I wouldn’t have lasted too long!

I started out on 40 meters and quickly received a call from Emily KB3VVE.  Emily is an active NPOTA activator and chaser and is widely-known in NPOTA circles for her cookies.

For the next 20 minutes or so, I was pretty busy until things started slowing down.  I checked 20 meters but it was wall-to-wall with contesters.  So, I retreated to 30 meters.  Thirty is usually a pretty good band for me but not today, for some reason.  Checking the Band Conditions website, it looked like conditions had taken a bad turn.  I went back to 40 meters and picked up one more contact.

Band Conditions Graph
This could be one of the reasons the QSOs dried up on me.

It was heavily overcast today with a steady breeze blowing down the river.  After an hour or so I started to get cold and decided to pack it in for the day.

I ended the day with 13 contacts in the log — all on 40 meters.  It wasn’t a great showing but I had more than enough to qualify the activation.

The heater in the truck felt pretty good on the drive home.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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NPOTA Activation in Havre de Grace, MD

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoFollowing my failed attempt at activating the Captain John Smith Trail (TR21) back in July, I figured it was time to try again.  This time, I headed down to Havre de Grace, Maryland, to activate an NPOTA twofer:  TR21 and the Star Spangled Banner Trail (TR22).

I have always had a fondness for Northeastern Maryland.  I went through Navy Radioman School at the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center back in the early 70s and frequently traveled through this area during my working days.  The town of Havre de Grace has always been one of my favorite places.  It’s a scenic little town that is steeped in history.

The Promenade along the waterfront in Havre de Grace, MD
The Promenade along the waterfront in Havre de Grace, MD

For this trip, I made the hour and a half drive down to Tydings Memorial Park in Havre de Grace.  I set up in the parking lot near a marina.  I got as close to the waterfront as possible but some overhead power lines kept me from taking a parking spot at the water’s edge.

After setting up my KX3 and my 29.5-foot vertical, I started calling CQ on 40 meters.  Things got off to a slow start.  After 15 minutes without a contact, a Havre de Grace police cruiser rolled up to see what I was up to.  I gave him my ham radio/NPOTA spiel but he seemed more interested in the mechanics of my 31-foot Jackite pole.  After chatting for a bit, he told me to have fun and left.

My location at Tydings Park in Havre de Grace, MD
My location at Tydings Park in Havre de Grace, MD

Eventually, I scored my first contact.  Right about that time, K4JDF pulled up.  Bernie, who lives in Havre de Grace, saw my spot on Facebook and stopped by to visit.  After chatting with Bernie for a bit, things got busy on 40 meters.

While working a mini pile-up on 40 meters, I was battling some intermittent issues with my paddles.  At one point, I had to put the KX3 in straight key mode and use one side of my paddles as a straight key.  I eventually got that issue resolved.   A little later, I inadvertently hit the wrong button on the KX3 and put the receive filter in some weird state.  I eventually got that straightened out, too.

A view of the marina at Tydings Park
A view of the marina at Tydings Park

After shifting to 20 meters, things got pretty intense for a bit.  The band seemed to really be open to the western states.  After things thinned out on 20 meters, I took a few pictures and packed up for the trip home.

Some other highlights:

  •  Working fellow QRPer, W1PID.  Jim was out on a trail in New Hampshire.
  • Working N3FJP.  Scott is the developer of ACLog (among others), which I use for my main station log.  I think this is the first time I’ve worked Scott on the air.

This was a beautiful Fall day.  It was “t-shirt weather,” for sure.  I’m hoping to squeeze in a few more activations before the end of the year.

72/73, Craig WB3GCK

White Clay Creek NPOTA Activation

I took advantage of another nice Fall day and did some hiking along White Clay Creek.  Since White Clay Creek is a National Wild and Scenic River (WR39), I did a short NPOTA activation along the way.  I previously activated this unit but I figured I would make a small contribution towards getting the NPOTA program to the 1 million QSO mark by the end of the year.

White Clay Creek Wild and Scenic River. Taken on the Pennsylvania side of the White Clay Creek Preserve.
White Clay Creek Wild and Scenic River. Taken on the Pennsylvania side of the White Clay Creek Preserve.

I hiked a section of the Mason-Dixon Trail that runs between Pennsylvania and Delaware and closely follows the creek.  As I traveled down the trail, I searched for a decent place to put up an antenna.  Not finding one, I eventually came to the Delaware state line.  About a quarter of a mile into Delaware, I got lucky.

Obligatory selfie at the Delaware state line.
Obligatory selfie at the Delaware state line.

I came across a clearing that was well within the 25-foot requirement for activating a wild and scenic river.  There was a tree branch that was just begging for me to hang my antenna there.  Using a water bottle for a weight, I got my line over a 35-foot branch on the first toss.  Believe me, that doesn’t happen very often.  I strung up a 29.5-foot wire with a 9:1 unun and 18-feet of coax.  I quickly set up my KX3 and was on the air a few minutes earlier than planned.

Operating along the Mason-Dixon Trail in White Clay Creek Preserve. The creek is behind me just beyond the trees.
Operating along the Mason-Dixon Trail in White Clay Creek Preserve. The creek is behind me just beyond the trees.

I started out on 40 meters.  Despite all the Sweepstakes contest stations, that turned out to be the best band for me today.  I quickly got the required 10 contacts and then some.  I eventually moved up to 30 meters and worked a couple there.  I next moved up to 20 meters but the band was going crazy with the contest.  I tuned up to 14.102 MHz and eventually worked a California station.  With no other takers, I headed back to 30 meters and picked up one more there.  I ended my brief session with 21 contacts in my log.  I packed up and enjoyed a leisurely hike back to my truck.

It was a nice way to spend the afternoon.  I need to get back down to this area to explore some of the other trails.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Schuylkill River Trail Ride

I headed out this afternoon for a bike ride along the Schuylkill River Trail.  I pulled off the trail where it passes through Valley Forge National Historical Park.  I wanted to ride across Sullivan’s Bridge, which opened recently.  This pedestrian and biking bridge crosses the Schuylkill River and provides a connection to other trails.

After riding across the new bridge and back, I made a pit stop in the Betzwood Picnic Area.  I wanted to do some testing with an antenna that I’ve been playing around with lately.  It’s simply a lightweight, 19-foot vertical fed through a 9:1 unun.  It’s built around an inexpensive, lightweight, Chinese fishing pole I bought on eBay.

I set up at a picnic table under a shady tree.  I mounted the vertical on a tripod, using an adapter that I cobbled together from PVC pipe this morning.  The internal tuner in the KX3 tuned it up on every band from 40 meters through 6 meters.

My setup in the Betzwood Picnic Area in Valley Forge National Historical Park.
My setup in the Betzwood Picnic Area in Valley Forge National Historical Park.

I didn’t hear any activity around the 30 and 20 meter QRP watering holes, so I moved down to 40 meters.  Forty meters is the least efficient band for this antenna but I worked a few Ohio QSO Party stations.  I also worked Joe N2CX who was doing an NPOTA activation in Ohio (NS78).  I didn’t set out to activate Valley Forge today but I sent Joe the NPS unit number (HP46).  I have to confess that I cranked my power up to 10 watts for the QSO with Joe.  I think that’s the first time I’ve used more than 5 watts on the HF bands in the past 20 years or so.

Heading back to the Pawlings Road Trail Head along the Schuylkill River Trail
Heading back to the Pawlings Road Trail Head along the Schuylkill River Trail

Feeling comfortable that this short vertical seems to be making some radio waves, I packed up the bike and got back on the trail for the ride back.

It was a nice day but I’m glad I got my ride in before it really started warming up.

72, Craig WB3GCK