[amsat-bb] WD9EWK from DM31ov - report

Patrick STODDARD (WD9EWK/VA7EWK) amsat-bb at wd9ewk.net
Sun Sep 6 14:40:22 PDT 2009


Despite the evening thunderstorms that rolled in from northern
Mexico, ruining my chance to work one more pass, my day-trip to  
grid DM31 yesterday (Saturday, 5 September 2009) was successful.
I was able to look around the area, so I could have a better idea 
of the surroundings than I could see in Google Earth or Google 
Maps.  That grid is less than 3 hours from my home, so this is a 
destination I can visit on future day-trips.

As I drove toward DM31 near the USA/Mexico border on Arizona route 
85, I made note of a spot that straddles the DM31ox/DM32oa grid 
boundary.  There is a place to safely pull off the highway, but 
with mountains to the east and west of the highway I did not think 
this would be a good spot to work from.  I was not so concerned with
operating from the grid boundary; I can visit DM32 in an hour's
drive from Phoenix, but DM31 is not so convenient.  I drove to the 
small town of Lukeville, which is the Arizona side of this border 
crossing point across from the Mexican city of Sonoyta.  This point 
is where most who are interested in visiting the Mexican town of 
Puerto Penasco ("Rocky Point"), on the north end of the Gulf of 
California just over 60 miles/100km away, cross the border.  This 
area allowed me a better view of the sky to the east and west than I
had at other points north of the border - without having to go 
away from the highway and set up in an area that is less secure than
a border crossing complete with lots of law-enforcement personnel.  

My location was in grid DM31ov - 31 52.915 N, 112 49.027 W.  I
parked in a large parking lot at "Gringo Pass", which is a 
complex complete with gasoline station, restaurant, grocery store, 
and a duty-free store and auto-insurance agency for those heading
into Mexico.  I did not have a Mexican ham-radio permit, and with
the security situation over there not being stable, I did not 
cross the border even for a second.  I walked up to the line, and
took photos around there - the plaque marking the international 
border, a plaque on the Mexican customs house, the signs and flag
on the Mexican side of the border, looking along the border fence,
etc.  I also took some photos of my portable station, and was able 
to work an SO-50 pass at just after noon (1900 UTC).  

For that pass, I logged 8 QSOs - mostly with stations near the 
Pacific coast, with 3 being further east as the satellite moved in 
that direction.  A good start.  I was ready for the first of two 
AO-27 passes at 2049 UTC.  When the repeater opened up, it was busy.
I was able to make QSOs with 17 stations from Mexico, the continental 
USA, and even KL7XJ in Alaska showed up at the end of the 7-minute
repeater time.  Before the next AO-27 pass, I had lunch and then 
returned to the parking lot for the pass.  That pass put 6 more QSOs 
in the log.  

I had planned to work 2 AO-51 passes, at 0026 and 0206 UTC.  I 
knew of a pass around 2254 UTC, a very shallow pass for me at 
this location (maximum elevation 2 degrees).   Since the first
possible AO-51 pass came not long after the western AO-27 pass,
I decided to try it from this location.  I figured I might have
2 minutes or so when the satellite was at its highest to hear
something, let alone make QSOs.  In the span of approximately 80 
seconds, I heard the satellite, made a call, worked 3 stations,
then heard nothing when AO-51 went behind mountains northeast of
my location.  If anyone has a recording of that pass from
yesterday, in particular the segment between 2255 and 2257 UTC,
and could e-mail me a copy of that - I would appreciate hearing 

After those 3 QSOs, I drove up the road toward the Organ Pipe 
Cactus National Monument - which I drove through earlier - and to
the town of Why.  The signs as you approach this little town answer
that "question" - gasoline, food, lodging, and camping.  Other than
that, there's not much here other than an intersection with another
highway that heads east toward Tucson, 120 miles/200km away.  There
was even a small casino about 2 miles/3km east of that intersection,
on the western edge of a large Indian reservation.  After that drive
and picture-taking, I drove back to Lukeville. 

The better eastern pass of AO-51 for me was at 0026 UTC.  I was
ready, and worked a total of 16 stations - 6 in Mexico, and 10
across the USA.  I appreciate the fact that I was able to make
QSOs with so many XE stations, as they are also interested in 
working rare or unusual grids as many in the US are.  This turned
out to be my last pass from DM31 for the day, unfortunately. 

As the 0026 UTC AO-51 pass ended, I had a nice chat with a couple
of officers from the US Border Patrol.  They were interested in
what I was doing with radio equipment, so close to the border.  
They asked me what I was doing, which I explained to them.  One of
the officers asked if I could listen in on their radio gear.  I 
said "no", thinking their radios were using some form of digital
transmissions (they each had commercial Motorola HTs on their 
belts) and I did not have a receiver capable of decoding digital
voice communications.  I understand why they might ask that question,
since there would be others that would be interested in listening in 
on those transmissions.  One of the officers stuck around for almost 
20 minutes to chat (his uncle is a ham operator, but the officer
had not picked up this hobby), and we watched the dark clouds roll 
in.  Then he returned to his post - inspecting vehicles approaching 
the Mexican border.  

As the clock moved toward 0206 UTC, the start of the last pass I
planned to work, dark clouds started coming up from the southeast.
Then lightning started to strike around that part of the border
area.  The lightning convinced me to shut down, dismantle my 
station, and head home.  I was able to drive about 5 miles/8km
north of the border, next to the visitor center at the nearby 
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and take some pictures of 
the southern sky as it was being lit up by lightning.  My camera
is a simple Sony 7.2-megapixel camera, which does not lend itself
for nighttime photography and doesn't have a fast shutter speed.
I was able to get some nice photos of the clouds in the sky as
the lightning lit them up.  

On the way home, at another US Border Patrol highway checkpoint 
about 60 miles/100km north of Lukeville, the two officers there 
asked me where I was coming from and also about my radio gear.  
Then one of them asked if I knew the code to access the front-
panel programming mode for a certain model of commercial Kenwood 
HT - not the sort of question I expected to hear from those 
officers.  I didn't know about that, but we did talk for a few 
minutes about radios and programming them before I was allowed to
continue on my way home.  I did not mind talking with any of the
Border Patrol officers; they have a tough job trying to secure the
southern US border, and now performing inspections on vehicles 
heading into Mexico (a new task, something that was never done on
a regular basis in the past for those leaving the US).  

Despite not having the chance to safely work the last AO-51 pass,
this was a good day.  A total of 50 QSOs went in the log on 5 
different passes, and now I have a better idea of where to go to
work from DM31 in the future.  Most of this grid is in Mexico, and 
there are better locations without so many hills and mountains on 
the other side of the border.  Even down to "Rocky Point", which is
near the southern edge of DM31, would be a good place to set up 
and operate - while having something cool to drink.  :-)  That will
have to wait, but I'll head down to the Arizona side of DM31 again
in the future. 

Again, anyone interested in a QSL card confirming contacts made 
with me from DM31 only needs to e-mail me the QSO details.  No
SASE is needed.  I hope to have cards in the mail in the next 
week or so.  



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