Castle Mountain….the middle of nowhere

NPOTA Entity: 

  • Castle Mountain National Monument  MN83
  • Mojave National Preserve  PV13

SOTA summit: N/A

Activation Date: March 18th/19th, 2016

Portable operation: No

Hike in: No

Solo operation: Yes

ATT Coverage: None what so ever

Photos: Copyright Paul Gacek 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 10.53.32 AM
Red teardrop top right is Castle Mountain National Monument

The Rubicon pulled up next to mine and the driver asked if I was OK. “All good” I replied “and I’m setting up a ham station”. He smiled, chuckled and drove on. Spaced out far enough not to breath trail dust, three more Rubicons drift by slowly with nods and inquiries. As the last disappears the sense of solitude is very real and this definitely feels like the middle of nowhere. After approximately 280 miles, the last 50 or so on dirt roads I’ve arrived in the US’s newest National Park entity; Castle Mountain National Monument. Stopping by at the Barstow NPS office helped me understand the best but longer route here that avoided desert pinstripe on my Jeep that pinyons inflict while guarding overgrown trails. To my surprise I learn that Castle Mountain is a donut shaped park with the centre firmly in the hands of private mining. The journey to this point through Mojave National Preserve passes many abandoned ranches, a few homes most abandoned, some occupied, memorials to rail history and a diversity of terrain that is the center piece of Mojave where three different deserts collide.  The journey is the closest I’ve come to recreating an Apollo moonshot where I’m bobbing around in the middle of nowhere entirely reliant on my transport to get me in and out safely!

I’m somewhat underwhelmed by Castle Mountain as I thought it would be distinctly unique and so far I think Mojave is more appealing but in fairness I haven’t made it into the mountain bits of Castle Mountain.

Within Castle Mountain National Monument looking at the privately owner  Hart mine area

I busy myself with setting up my ham station. Scott, AK6Q made me a device to easily attach my 28 ft Jackite to my trailer hit and I have my SOTA antenna up quickly but it limits me to 25 watts. I’ve brought the Elecraft K2 that I built ages ago and it has a 100 watt amp mated to it.

Using the K2 I built in 2012

Time is of the essence and I want to offer Castle Mountain to as many chasers as possible before dusk and the need to find a camp site. Waiting to be spotted can be time-consuming and I elect to use one of my life lines, the sat phone, to call Bob, KB6CIO who has me spotted quickly. Dyslexia kicks in and despite logging Larry, K5RK, many times I write and read back W5RK which probably gave Larry a momentary fright and he’s quick to remind me of the correct call. I have a knack for finding “reserved” frequencies with once finding myself in the midst of three hundred and thirteen pirates and so today I find I’m just on the edge of SSTV “reserved” frequency that someone eventually points out and it’s my cue to try 40m and help the locals. 40m is crowded and without a tuner I try to squeeze into a quiet spot which isn’t so quiet and fortunately William, W6SAN helps me find a new frequency and spots me.

The late afternoon heat is hotter than I expected and I discover myself in the middle of an unscheduled test to see if the advertising claims that SmartWool clothing is all season. I determine it isn’t and hotter gets even hotter. I really should have been sitting in the Jeep and not outside.

Operating far right of picture using 25 watts and a 28ft Jackite pole and End Fed


AK6Q built “mast to trailer hitch adapter” …clears the rear tire nicely

After an hour or so of driving, partly retracing my steps and then along Cedar Canyon Road I arrive in Mid Hills campground. Its really quite a nice place and I back into a camp site and marvel at the picnic table.

Car camping at Mid Hills campground, Mojave National Preserve

Evening operations seem to be a bust and I struggle to get contacts on 40m. All is not lost as the deserts are famous for dark sky star watching and while I’m contending with a full moon and I do manage to find Belatrix, Marik, Rigel, Sirius and other luminaries of different constellations. Feels good and adds to my recreation of an Apollo moonshot.

I slept in the Jeep and occationally wondered why someone was shinning a flashlight onto me but it was just that full moon again. All night I could smell the freshly ground coffee beans I had made the day before and it just added to the bizarreness of the night along with the flashlight moon. While not the most comfortable of places to sleep, it worked. The all night coffee smell eventually morphed into excellent tasting coffee after grinds where introduced to water and my new JetBoil stove.

A very worthwhile acquisition from REI

Fun activations but a lot of driving adding up to around 600 miles!







  1. I was wondering if you were going to find some additional National Parks as I had not seen a post from you recently. Last weekend I passed through Barstow on my way back from the annual “Baker to Vegas” event. Hope you had plenty of water and emergency supplies with you as it sounds like you were quite some distance from “civilization”. Great post again. Enjoyed the details of your set-up.
    Terry K6MA


  2. Hi Paul, another great read and fantastic pictures. Which site do you use for spotting activations in US National Parks? I am interested in listening and potentially chasing NPOTA.


    1. Andrew

      The National Park stuff is really fun with almost 6,500 active chasers and 550 activators. We use any of the clusters to spot (I self spot to and many use a FaceBook group to post spots.

      Alerts are posted to

      Would be great to have you as my chaser!!



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