Paul Butzi |||

The N3JCJ(sk) Memorial Pota Rove

My dad died on Jan 30, 2024. I spent half of January whammied while I recovered from Across the Years, and the other half on the East Coast helping my mom. Most of February was consumed catching up on things deferred from January, and going back east for my Dad’s memorial service. As a result, I never really had the time or mental space to come to grips with losing my dad.

So, when a friend invited me to the opening reception for his photo show in Boise, ID, I dreamed up a cockamamie plan - I would drive out instead of fly, and I’d stop at parks along the way and do POTA activations on both the way out and the way back. My hope was that the time spent focused on ham radio stuff and travel would give me the mental space I needed to let my subconscious mind do some sifting, sorting, and adjusting. It’s a road distance of roughly 500 miles one way, and 7 hours of driving, if you take the most direct route, which I was not planning on doing.

With this vague plan in my pocket I started furiously researching the parks that were proximate to my vaguely planned route, adjusting the route to include parks that seemed interesting as needed. I also started frantically preparing equipment, buying several easily deployed antennas, testing them, and deciding which gear I’d take along.


I had in mind a primary setup, which I would use most of the time, and then other gear which I would use if the need or to mood to vary things arose.

Primary Gear

  • Power: Bioenno 40AH 12v LiFePO4 battery. I could probably have done all the operating for the entire trip on one charge, but I had a 120VAC charger as well as a charging setup to recharge as I drove (which didn’t get set up until the return leg)
  • Radio: Icom IC-7300 with either the hand mic, or a Heil Pro 7 headset
  • Antenna: three magnet magnetic mount with a Chameleon Antenna 17’ telescoping whip on a quick release.
  • Logging: HamRS
  • Cellphone hotspot and Macbook Pro laptop for logging and spotting
  • Garmin InReach for spotting if I had no cell service

Alternate Gear

  • Power: Bioenno 12AH LiFePO4 battery usually used for dual band VHF/UHF radio in car
  • Radio: Elecraft KX3 with KXPA-100 power amp and PX3 panadapter. I actually prefer this radio, but in portable operations this entire assembly is a rats nest of cabling.
  • Tufteln 20M vertical loop
  • Tufteln 20M EFHW
  • Tufteln EFRW with several different length radiators
  • Chelegance MC-750 vertical antenna
  • 10M telescoping fiberglass mast and drive on mast mount
  • Bag of various lengths of RG8x coax, adapters, and so on.

Day One

Day One started at my home near Carnation, WA. I got a later start than I’d hope for but I was determined not to turn the entire expedition into a strictly run, planned to the minute sort of enterprise.

K-3240 Olmstead Place State Park

Driving distance: 104 miles
Driving time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Time spent activating: 15 minutes
QSOs: 15

The short activation time of 15 minutes is a little deceiving, as I spent a fair bit of time at Olmstead Place State Park just sorting out how I wanted to handle setup and teardown to make it reasonably efficient. That mostly involved rearranging how things were packed in the car so that the gear I was going to use was either exactly where I’d use it, or in a place where it was instantly accessible.

The gear I used was the Icom IC-7300, Heil Pro 7 Headset, all set up in the back of the car with a laptop desk hanging off the front seat headrest. This gave me a reasonably comfortable operating position.

Power was from the 40AH Bioenno battery.

Antenna was the 17’ Chameleon whip mounted directly on the triple magnetic mount, with the coax fed through the slightly open sunroof of the car and down to the radio. I confirmed that the antenna was adjusted properly with a quick check on the RigExpert Stick 500.

Using my phone as a hotspot, I spotted myself on 20m, started calling CQ. 20M was not particularly hot as it was still fairly early, but the calls came in at a steady clip. Fifteen minutes later I had 15 QSOs, enough that I was confident that I had a valid activation, and calling CQ got no more responses. So I called QRT, rolled everything up, and headed on to get some lunch and find the next park.

K-0120 Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park

Driving distance: 26 miles
Driving time: 30 minutes
Radio time: 36 minutes
QSOs: 27

Setup at Gingko Petrified Forest State Park was very quick, as I’d left the radio in place and connected to power, and all I needed to do was put the mag mount on the roof of the car, drop the feedline through the sunroof opening, extend the whip and pop it onto the quick release on the mag mount, do a quick check with the RigExpert, connect the feedline to the radio, and move the laptop to the laptop desk and connect to my phone hotspot. I spotted myself, and 36 minutes later I’d netted 27 QSOs. It was quite windy at this location, and I had a little trouble getting the whip onto the quick release mount because the wind exerted a fair bit of lateral force that made alignment difficult. In the same vein, I struggled a bit to get the quick release to release when I was taking the antenna down.

Some time was spent using the bathroom and taking a little walk around this very nice park on the Columbia river.

K-3252 Potholes State Park

Driving distance: 40 miles
Driving time: 45 minutes
Radio Time: 27 minutes
QSOs: 27, including one dup which was recognized at the time

Once again, I used the mag mount with the Chameleon whip, which was performing well on 20m and is quite fast to set up and tear down.

Again, good cell service made it easy to spot myself and in less than half an hour, I’d netted 27 QSOs, and then when the activity tapered off, I called QRT. I’d gotten a later start than I’d hoped and I realized at this point that I could fit two more activations in before dark if I hustled a bit.

K-2441 Scootenay Reservoir State Park/Recreation Area

Driving distance: 32 miles
Driving time: 39 minutes
Radio Time: 23 minutes
QSO's: 36

By this time I was getting better at arriving at a park and quickly sniffing out the good location for doing a POTA activation from the car. My method: watch for signs for overflow parking’, boat ramp’, trailer parking’. Those parking areas are most likely not close to picnic areas, play areas, and other places where deploying an impressively tall 17’ antenna will detract from other people’s enjoyment of the park. Also, look for parking that’s higher up. Finally, when touring the park on arrival, play close attention to your phone and watch cellular signal strength if you want to use your phone as a hotspot.

K-4555 Hanford Reach National Monument

Driving distance: 42 miles
Driving time: 45 minutes
Radio Time: 40 minutes
QSO's: 56

Hanford Reach NM is a huge area, and the question I faced was how do I find a good location and still be sure I’m inside the boundaries?’ In the end I opted to just drive to the listed lat/long, which I knew from my research was definitely in the NM and was a parking lot/rest area. From a radio propagation point of view this location isn’t ideal, as it’s down close to the Columbia River, surrounded by hills in every direction.

But that didn’t seem to matter, as I got a huge haul of contacts in 40 minutes. Calls were still coming in when I realized that it was late enough that I would now arrive at the hotel in the dark.

Hotel in Richland, WA

Driving distance: 42 miles
Driving time: 44 minutes

A Holiday Inn Express is not my idea of fine lodging but for a one night stay it was fine.

Day Two

The original plan was to activate Horse Heaven Hills BLM Recreation Area (K-10408) at the end of the first day, but I ran out of time. Instead I activated this first thing on the second day.

K-10408 Horse Heaven Hills BLM Recreation Area

Driving distance: 17 miles
Driving time: 25 minutes
Radio Time: 28 minutes
QSO's: 20

The lat/long given on the POTA page for Horse Heaven Hills is one of the entrances, but I drove some 2 miles beyond the entrance to a parking spot near the top of the ridge. From where I parked I had a panoramic view north into Washington, and South into Oregon. Propagation from this location is excellent, and it’s a beautiful spot, but very windy.

My plan from Horse Heaven Hills was to continue toward Boise, hitting Emigrant Springs State Park and Farewell Bend State Park before reaching Boise before it got dark. That plan got blown to smithereens in short order.

K-6435 Emigrant Springs State Park and the Great Abort

Driving distance: 95 miles
Driving time: 1 hour 27 minutes
Radio time: 0 minutes
QSO's: 0

Just before I reached Emigrant Springs State Park I passed a sign saying that I-84 was closed ahead. Since I-84 was pretty much the only sensible route to reach Boise, this presented a real problem. Some frantic internet searching while parked in the parking lot at Emigrant Springs revealed that the freeway was closed at La Grande, Oregon because a truck carrying a rotor blade for a wind power generation turbine had rolled, closing the freeway both eastbound and westbound.

I figured I had two options: activate the park and head back toward Pendleton, or abandon the plan and immediately head east, hoping I could find some way around the blockage. I decided to head east.

When I got to La Grande, the freeway was closed. I call to my wife got me some help and she routed me over state highways to Baker City, where we hoped I’d be past the closed section of freeway. But when I got to Baker City, the freeway was closed and the state highways east/south were closed as well.

Paula suggested I backtrack a bit and head North to Oxbow, then south on SH-71 across the Snake River and then down to my hotel in Meridian, right next to Boise. I took her advice. The drive up to Oxbow was beautiful but slow. The drive from Oxbow back to I-84 was also beautiful but slow.

Candlewood Suites, Meridian, ID

Driving time: 5 hours plus an hour of fiddling about trying to find a route

I arrived in Meridian just after dark, very tired and very hungry. I checked into my hotel, then headed to a restaurant to grab a decent dinner. At the restaurant, they declined to seat me, saying it would be 20-30 minutes although they had four 4 tops open. I figured, fuck them. I grabbed some fast food on the way back to the hotel.

Day Three

After contacting my friend Bill and discussing a plan for the day, my plan was to activate two local parks in the morning, meet up with Bill and Rae at 2, do a tour of the World Center for Birds of Prey, and then hopefully sneak in one more park before returning to the Center for the show reception.

K-10433 Eagle State Fish Hatchery

Driving distance: 11 miles
Driving time: 23 minutes
Radio time: 25 minutes plus some dorking about
QSOs: 18

I arrived at the site to find limited options for a good place to set up. I finally picked one of the small parking lots that seemed less likely to have me be in the way and set up there. I put up the mag mount and whip, and encountered massive noise on 20m - S7 to S9. I immediately pivoted and tried to shorten the whip so I could try 17m and see if the noise was better there. I had a lot of trouble getting the whip adjusted, and finally tried setting it to 20M before realizing the problem was some intermittent thing with the coax and the mag mount. Fiddling with the coax a bit I quickly got a near perfect match on 17M and set to work.

25 minutes later I had 18 QSOs in the bag and decided to move to the next park, which it turns out was immediately adjacent to the hatchery.

K-2233 Eagle Island State Park

Driving distance: 1 mile
Driving time: 5 minutes
Radio time: 37 minutes
QSOs: 43

Entering the park I immediately encountered a sign pointing to overflow parking’, which sounded ideal to me. I picked a corner of the large parking area and quickly set up for 20M, hoping the serious noise I encountered at the fish hatchery was from the pumps at the hatchery and would not reach quite to this parking lot. I was right - 20m had a low noise floor and in short order the calls were rolling in. The calls were still coming in when I realized I’d run out of time.

I packed up and headed to meet my friends for a great tour of the World Center for Birds of Prey.

After the tour, I looked at the time and figured I had just barely enough time to squeeze in an activation of Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge.

K-0276 Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge

Driving distance: 23 miles
Driving time: 45 minutes
Radio time: 24 minutes
QSOs: 35

Knowing I was very tight on time, I parked at the first spot I saw, looking out over the water. Again, I set up the mag mount and whip for 20M, fiddled a bit to work around the coax problem, and got on the air. The noise floor was low, propagation was excellent, and in short order I had QSOs ranging from California to the east coast, from Texas all the way up to two contacts in Alaska. (I think the folks in Alaska were watching for me, as several Alaska hams caught me at many parks and those QSOs were exceedingly friendly.)

Again, I ran out of time before I ran out of callers, but I needed to pack up and hustle back to the Center for the opening reception.

Day Four - Homeward Bound

My original plan had been to spend two days to get to Boise, a day in Boise, and then two more days back home, hopefully activating parks in Oregon and Washington along the Columbia River before swinging north to get home.

That plan changed on the fly

K-9147 Farewell Bend State Recreation Area

Driving distance: 73 miles
Driving time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Radio time: 0 minutes
QSOs: 0

I arrived at Farewell Bend and thought it a great place to activate. Alas, I had no cell coverage there, although I had great coverage when I left the freeway. I spent half an hour trying to find a spot where I got some coverage, considered spotting myself using the Garmin InReach, and in the end decided that was a lot of bother and I just wasn’t up for it. Instead I took a walk around the area, just enjoying being there, and then headed on to the next park - Emigrant Springs, where I had aborted things on the drive to Boise two days ago.

K-6435 Emigrant Springs State Park

Driving distance: 120 miles
Driving time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Radio time: 32 minutes
QSOs: 20

I spent some time searching for the best spot to activate in a park where I was the only person present. In the end, selections were narrowed by my wanting decent cell coverage, and I activated in the spot where I’d aborted just days before.

For no particular reason I set up for 17m instead of 20, spotted myself, and in half an hour I had 20 QSOs and when callers stopped answering my CQ, I called it a day and moved on.

At this point I was getting very very tired of driving, tired of operating from the car, and I as I drove westward I adjusted my plans again. My new plan was to return to Horse Heaven Hills, activate there, and then evaluate. If after the Horse Heaven Hills activation I was not in the mood to continue, I’d just head home from there and arrive just before sunset.

K-10408 Horse Heaven Hills BLM Recreation Area

Driving distance: 99 miles
Driving Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
Radio Time: 15 minutes
QSOs: 17

I was pleased to be back at Horse Heaven Hills; it’s a great spot to activate.

Unlike my first activation two days before, this time I set up for 17M for no particular reason other than to see how that went. I like the 17M band as it’s free of contesting and it’s often easier to find a clear frequency to run on than on the crowded 20M band.

In 15 minutes of operating, I had 17 contacts when suddenly the calls stopped coming. I kept calling CQ for a few minutes, then looking at the time and calculating when I would arrive home, I packed it all up, rolled down the hill, filled the gas tank, and headed home.


Driving distance: 198 miles
Driving Time: 3 hours 15 minutes

I was glad to get home.

Not counting driving about to get to/from Bill’s show while I was in Boise/Meridian, and driving to get gas and meals, it works out to roughly 1220 miles of driving taking nearly 22 hours of driving time. No wonder I was sick of driving and being in the car.

I got in 277 QSOs and 11 activations in 10 different parks.

Up next K-1732 Brandywine Creek State Park Activation POTA rove lessons One of the problems I encountered about halfway through the multi-day expedition was an intermittent problem with the coax connection to the three
Latest posts US-5744 (Tiger Mountain State Forest) Activation Xiegu G90 First Thoughts Random Wire Antennas POTA rove lessons The N3JCJ(sk) Memorial POTA rove K-1732 Brandywine Creek State Park Activation Wallypark Stupidity Across the Years 2024-2024 Race Report Learning CW POTA Activation #1 K-3216 Parks on the air Antenna Lessons Part Three - Antenna Rigging Lessons from Antenna Hanging Part Two - Hardware Lessons from Antenna Hanging Part One Antenna Suspension Maintenance Improving NMO antenna magmount Get Home Bag/EDC Bag Mt. Si 50k 2023 Losing Weight -- Part Two: Mid Effort Results Losing Weight Part One Auto Mechanics, Tech Support, Doctors An Open Letter to Web Designers Going too far Doing Hard Things Starlink part II Cold Showers Running Headlamps Batteries and Preparedness SpaceX Starlink Flashlights First Aid Kits