Ham Radio Field Day (Sort Of)

June 22-25, 2017

Every year on the fourth weekend in June, ham radio operators nationwide participate in a "Field Day" to demonstrate their ability to send messages without the use of phone systems, internet or any other infrastructure that can be compromised in a crisis. Dennis and I typically celebrate by camping in the Chiricahuas or other high mountains — chosen not just because they are good radio locations, but to escape from the insufferable heat that envelopes the low desert this time of year. Invariably, we get caught in a thunderstorm, since the first of the monsoon storms always arrives in Arizona via the Chiricahua Mountains. Over time, we've come to believe that it's our job to meet the monsoon in the Chiricahuas and coax it back to Tucson. If we didn't meet it partway, maybe the monsoon would stay in the mountains?

Between June 19th and June 25th, Tucson International Airport registered 7 straight days with a high temperature of at least 109°. This is the third longest streak on record.

Wildfires were burning all over Arizona, and the air was choked with smoke. We could hardly wait to escape into the mountains! Given the extreme weather, all the other hams backed out, but Kit decided to join us!

A small spring feeds a tiny stream that meanders through a field of wild irises.

We left Tucson Thursday morning, stopping for lunch at the train car in Willcox and then caravaning to Barfoot Park. We chose this location because last year when we were camped on a knoll near Turkey Park a lightning strike shaved the bark off a tree 150 feet away from us. There were a few other campers on Thursday night, but noone at all for the next three days.

Dragoons Panorama
The heliport at Barfoot Park.

It was our first time camping at Barfoot, so we were surprised to find a large number of picnic tables scattered in the woods as well as an old heliport and several cement slabs. Barfoot Park is the former site of "Camp Victorio", a large boy scout camp. The camp was abandoned in the 1990s, apparently because of bears in the area. These days, Barfoot Park is an island of Ponderosa Pine, surrounded by ridges stripped bare by fire, the trees standing charred and naked, or tumbled down like so many matchsticks. An old jeep trail that used to connect to FR 357 is blocked off. The Ida Peak Trail has been relocated, but we turned back when in petered out in a badly burned area west of Barfoot Peak.

We tried hiking to the former site of Barfoot Lookout on Buena Vista Peak, but the trail was much worse even than last year. Plus, it's so sad to see the melted glass and charred fragments that are all that remain of the lovely lookout that once crowned this rocky promontory.
Buena Vista Peak. The lookout was a 14-foot-square wooden cabin built in 1935, and was part of a series of lookouts in the Chiricahuas. It was incinerated in a catastophic wildfire that swept through the Chiricahuas in 2011.
So we spent our time relaxing in the shade, reading and writing. Dennis made a few radio contacts with his buddies back in Tucson, but none at all during the contest. Jim and Jackie dropped by for a visit on Friday afternoon.

Friday night I awoke with a start. The air was suddenly thick with smoke. I stayed awaked for several hours, but eventually a cool breeze blew through the camp, and I fell back asleep. Later I would learn that a fire broke out that night just a few miles south of us, but it was quickly extinguished.

Meanwhile in the Chiricahuas.
On Saturday afternoon, the first big storm moved in, right on schedule. The storm drove us all back into our shells, where we promtply fell asleep with the rain drumming on the roof.
There was plenty of wildlife to keep us entertained. These mountain spiny lizards, of course, but also ravens, flickers, robins, Stellar's jays, juncos, hermit thrushes, hairy woodpeckers and hawks.
Coues deer are plentiful in the Chiricahuas and there were several young ones cavorting in the woods near our campsite.
We'd heard reports of a bear in the area, and he finally put in an appearance just as we were packing up to leave on Sunday morning. This was the closest I've been to a bear — at least to a bear I could see — and it wasn't scary at all. His looked back at us a couple of times, as if to gauge how quickly he needed to amble up the draw (not quickly at all).
Merriam turkeys are also very common in the Chiricahuas, and we saw this one many times, with several chicks so small they did not show up in any of our photos.
The Frye Fire, as seen from Willcox. This is a monster that has already torched more than 37,000 acres in the Piñalenos. It's currently the largest wildfire in Arizona and the second largest in the nation, and it came perilously close to the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham. The video below was taken by the LBT roof cam. We need rain, and we need it now!