Amateur Radio Field Day 2011

June 24-26, 2011

Every year on the fourth weekend in June, more than 30,000 ham radio operators nationwide participate in a "Field Day" sponsored by the National Association for Amateur Radio. The purpose of the event is to demonstrate their ability to send messages in many different forms without the use of phone systems, internet or any other infrastructure that can be compromised in a crisis. Using only emergency power supplies, ham operators construct emergency stations in parks, shopping malls, schools and back yards all over the country.

For the last four years, members of Tucson's SWOT ("sidewinders on 2") net have gathered at Rustler Park in the Chiricahuas for Field Day. With the Chiricahuas up in smoke and the entire Coronado National Forest closed because of fire danger, it wasn't easy to find an alternate location. We did finally locate the perfect spot on a ridge not too far from Tucson that — so far — is still open for camping.

Dennis and I arrived Thursday evening, which gave us time to explore the area before the rest of the group arrived. The first thing we did was hike all around the perimeter of the mountain. There was a lot of fire damage on the south-facing slope, but the main ridge and the northern slope were remarkably intact.

By Saturday morning, the big sticks came out, and it was obvious that virtually every other camper on the ridge was a ham radio operator. The non-hams took a big hike, looping north about seven miles through a mature pine forest past several surprising permanent springs. As we slabbed west along the flank of the mountain, the landscape changed from deep forest to a high desert of giant manzanita, and we emerged on a ridge in full sun with a hellacious climb ahead of us.

A short distance up the trail, we encountered an ATV parked sideways on the trail. In the video you'll see a close-up of his license plate — Utah A80CR — as well as a video of him ripping the crap out of the trail as he charges up the hill away from me.

After several days of Tucson temperatures ranging from 105 to 112, the cool mountain air was delicious. It heightened my appreciation for what little remains of the Sky Island forests. It also made me very uneasy about their future. Our camping area was operating under normal fire season restrictions: no wood or charcoal fires. Our (non-ham) neighbors still insisted on building a wood fire Saturday evening. We called the Forest Service to report it, but the sole ranger on duty was several hours away. And that's the sorry state of protection for Arizona's endangered National Forests!