Field Day in the Gila National Forest

June 23-26, 2022

Amateur Radio Field Day is an annual tradition for us. Every June, for the 18 years Dennis and I have been together, we gather with fellow hams to test and demonstrate their ability to communicate with limited equipment in challenging locations. Elevation and a good radio horizon are key, but so is a pleasant environment, since half the fun is camping with your buddies. For many years, we celebrated Field Day at Rustler Park in the Chiricahuas, but that idyll ended with the catastrophic Horseshoe Two Fire of 2011. We experimented with many other locations, including Pinal Peak, back to the Chiricahuas, the Coronado Trail, the Huachucas, the Mogollon Rim and even the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. But now living on the edge of the Gila National Forest, we wondered if there were possible locations closer to home. We scoured old topo maps and experimented with Google Earth projections. We drove every two-rut road between Piños Altos and the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Finally, we focused on a mesa top at 6900' with a large clearing and a near-360-degree view. Our buddy Doug G from Tucson drove up on Thursday afternoon and we packed up the cats and edged the RV up the steep and famously hairpin turns of Route 15.

campiing rigs with a rainbow

Field Day — which always stretches into several days including the setup — is always sandwiched between Fire Season and the Monsoon. This year was no exception. It rained 1.75" the night before, and rained more or less continuously the entire four days, for a weekly total of 3.88".

hit mount for mast on RV

Our setup with a new hitch mount for a tilt-up mast.

tent with two masts

Doug's setup, with an under-tire mount for a tilt-up mast and a freestanding mast.

View of Trout Creek

Part of the appeal for me is the opportunity to explore the area on foot. Our location proved to be quite interesting, since the mesa falls away steeply to Sapillo Creek and its tributaries. Over the next few days, we tried mightily to bushwhack into the canyon, but the slope was extremely steep and studded with chunks of basalt.

Parry's Agave

However, the somber skies and recent rains gave the rejuvenated flora and fauna an almost neon glow. Parry's Agave.

Reddish Potato Beetle

Reddish Potato Beetle.

Burrowing Dung Beetle

Burrowing Dung Beetle. Such an undignified name for such an extravagantly beautiful creature.

Tree Cholla

Tree Cholla

Madeleine snoozing on the dashboard

The cats add so much to our camping enjoyment.

Elio sleeping on his back

Why does the sight of a sleeping cat make me happy?

Elio spooning with Dennis

What to do when a light rain is drumming on the roof.

Hiking along Sapillo Creek

Finally, on Day 3, we decided to try the logical approach and drive to the trailhead for Sapillo Creek. It's been nine years since we last hiked this trail. It was far more lush than I recalled, rivaling any of the lovely riparian canyons in the Gila Wilderness.



Seep Monkeyflower

Seep Monkeyflower

Prickly Poppy

Prickly Poppy

swimming hole nymph

With no internet for four days, I had plenty of time to study the maps, so I know that where the creek hooks south and squeezes between rugged rhyolite cliffs, the main trail climbs out of the canyon and continues its seven-mile journey to the CDT and the confluence with the Gila River.

enjoying a deep pool

So we stayed in the creek bed, enjoying a string of delightful pools, some of them quite deep.

So how was the radio, anyway? Doug made contacts with operators in 45 of the 50 states as a personal exercise. A QSO with Brisbane, Australia got everyone pretty excited. Dennis was happy to have a consistent two-meter path to talk to his buddies in Tucson and enjoyed trying out his new hitch-mount tilt-up antenna.