Monday, March 19, 2018

POTA activation of Devil's River State Natural Area (KFF-3498)

This trip was a trial run for a future camping trip to a true dark sky site and sufficed as "dark enough" to learn what needed learnin' when pointing camera skyward at night.

Also known as KFF-3498

The fact that it qualified as a POTA park gave the 8-hour drive extra justification and provided a way of occupying my time while the camera's intervalometer clicked away - a total of 400 raw still images over a period of four hours produced a short video of those hours compressed into a few seconds.

Antenna and tent erected, grill deployed

The two adjacent cities of Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña 40 miles away produced an orange glow on my southern (and camera-facing) horizon and clouds obscured the view roughly 40% of the time but the technique worked, both in the shooting and the post work so I'm (literally) a happy camper.

Dinner is served: Cheap steak, potatoes and asparagus

Orion was magnificent as were other constellations and the many thousands of easily visible stars that formed a canopy as I CQ'ed beneath them, working stations, mostly on 40m, on both phone and CW into the wee hours of the morning.

A lone coyote was ever-present, close by and quite vocal. I recorded him with my cell phone audio recording app and used it as background to the video. The three-part combination of its howling, the sounds of CW and the view overhead was almost surreal. Only this and nothing more, as Poe might have said if he'd been there with his raven.

The color contrast of various stars was readily apparent, even to the naked eye. Blue Pleides cluster at lower-right.

I had expected a sky full of stars but what surprised me was the almost technicolor aspect of a great many of them. From my backyard, I can almost see color differences in the stars that make up Orion and Taurus - but from my campsite, the difference between orange Betelgeuse and blue Rigel was like something created by Pixar or Disney. Both of those stars are 700-800 light years away but it honestly seemed as if I could almost touch them if I'd only had the foresight to have brought a small ladder.

Clouds thickened as Jupiter started to rise but by then I was grateful to have already gotten the images I wanted.

For the still images that make up the video below, the shutter remained open for 25 seconds for each exposure and were shot at ISO 3200. I'm happy with the Nikon's (D610) low noise level at that ISO. Adobe Lightroom cleaned the images up further and After Effects combined them into a 24 fps video. Full-screenify it for maximum resolution:

About Devil's River State Natural Area - I hope to never see it again. The only way into the area was via 25 miles of bone-jarring, dusty desert road comprised of rocks ranging in size from marbles to cabbage heads. It is populated by little more than jackrabbits, coyotes, rattlesnakes and the optimistic hopes of people who eek out a living here. Doing what, I don't know. It's not cattle country. Whenever I offer my truck for sale, do not buy it - years of its life have been stripped away by having traversed 50 miles of this "road".

The FT-891 and a deep cycle battery entertained me as I waited for the sound of the camera's shutter to stop at 2am for battery replacement. There was plenty of activity on 40 meter phone, even at that hour, and I thank the group of guys in New Orleans (Scott W5PLT, Harry W5IR and others) who welcomed me to their group and added much to the enjoyment of my evening. They make their own fun and were good enough to throw a bit of it my way.

Operator's quarters inside the tent. Yes, that's a mattress - I'm a wimp

As mentioned, I'll be traveling to a real dark sky location soon - no towns or any other sources of light pollution for 100 miles in any direction. Of course I will bring a radio with me - either the FT-891 or the KX2. Probably both, and I'll be there for a week.


  1. John - Wonderful outing! Fantastic video. Thanks OM. Jim W1PID

  2. Thanks Jim, it was a lot of fun.

  3. Nice shots! It is always great to see the stars without any interruption. You might have noticed the wind turbines on your drive in. Unfortunately more are slated to move in, nearing closer to both the North and South Units. Meaning more blinking lights and viewshed disruption. has more details.

    1. Hi Tyler - I did indeed notice the turbines and may or may not have flown my quadcopter in the vicinity ;-)

      I'd love to know how much power they produce.