Searching for the Galactic Core

SOTA summit: W6/SD-037 (Inspiration Benchmark in Joshua Tree National Park, Cal)

Activation Date: September 21st, 2017

Portable operation: Yes

Radio: Elecraft KX2 operating at 10 watts and Yeasu VX8 at 5 watts

Antenna: LNR End Fed 20/40m plus 2m slim jim

Bands used: 40m, 20m and 2m

Furthest QSO: North Carolina

Hike in: Yes

Solo operation: No, with David Coulter

ATT Coverage: Great

Previous activation blog click here 

Photos: Copyright Paul Gacek 2017

In all honesty I had never heard of it prior to a few weeks ago. It sounds so important and I suppose in a way the Galactic Core is important. Its the center of our universe and brightest part of the Milky Way.

Like most city dwellers my experience of the night sky is more one of seeing amber colored clouds or darkness with little else. There’s an insidious thief about, light pollution that is robbing us of the wonders of the night sky that our ancestors have witness for an eternity, but not us.

The depression is about 20 miles away. It looks very lonely and dark. I’m fretting about the mountains that ring this open piece of desert. I’m convinced the core will be hidden, game over as those that aspire to photograph the Milky Way try often include the Galactic Core as its the brightest part. The signs at the turn off to Old Dale road look intimidating but don’t seem to match the condition of the road that lies ahead. Tick, I have a high clearance vehicle but this dirt road is smooth and unrutted.

We are early, actually far too early and end up killing time milling around the desert. It seems every few feet colonies of ants are busily transporting some kind of fluffy looking plant material underground. Maybe the queen ant needs a better mattress, who knows, who cares but its fun to momentarily watch these determined little soldiers discharge their mission for queen and country.

If you linger long enough you begin to see things you might never notice. The strangest of cacti that look like something out of the Devonian period and not the early 21st century.

A ritual to summon the Milky Way…it worked!!

Tripod deployed, camera mounted with my new Wi-Fi adapter has me buoyed with excitement and I do a happy dance to summon the Milky Way. It works, rather well and the Milky Way arches from directly in front to far behind me. Inbound jets to the LA Basin show up as a line of red dots, typically 20 for a 20 second exposure.

First attempt at “capturing” the Milky Way and its Core

Earlier in the day we had hiked off to Inspiration Benchmark. On the way up we saw a herd of ten or more Big Horn Sheep. Very cool and we were lucky given the allusive nature of them.

Someone had been spiffing up the Benchmark. A CND sign made of nails and a gnome sized bell.

CND (peace symbol) added since my march 2016 activation

Antenna up, spot posted and then a familiar banter starts back and forth between me and voices across the ether. Success and we hike out and head to my galactic rendezvous.

SOTA and astro photography, seems like an almost perfect day and night in the wilderness.


  1. Nice! Always wanted to explore that area. Was stationed down there (29 Palms) early in my Marine Corps career. Lots of night viewing while standing post out @ Camp Wilson too 😉 Later, Todd KH2TJ


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