Texas State Parks On The Air (TSPOTA) 2024

Wow, what a fun weekend.

TSPOTA (Texas State Parks On The Air) received lots of activity from the JSCARC as we operated April 20-21 across 5 state parks on SSB and CW.

Truth be told… initially Dan KG5PVP and I (W5OC), were the only crazy ones who were willing to embark on an adventurous car ride to activate 12 separate POTA/TSPOTA parks across the 2 day weekend.  But thank goodness common sense kicked in and after 8 decreasingly complicated route iterations, we agreed on a modest one-day event, primarily focused in a morning activation at Sheldon Lake Park- which several of the club members found much more attractive and willingly manageable.

The rainy weather forecast for Saturday initially dampened our spirits (pun intended), but after a few intermittent showers in the morning, we enjoyed cooperative weather activations throughout Saturday through Sunday (Dave W5OC ended up working 2 extra parks on Sunday).

Per plan, after our Sheldon Lake activation, Dan and I planned to drive to the 3 other parks- Galveston Island, Brazos Bend, and Stephen F Austin.  We estimated about 1-hour operating time at each park separated by ~a 1 hours drive between parks.  That would give us enough QSOs to enjoy a good core score as well as qualifying for park multipliers AND get us back home Saturday evening so that we could recover our weary bones at a reasonable hour.

Dan and I consolidated our logistics by sharing a TTB (Things To Bring) list.  Obviously, these lists are great helpers to help our brains to organize and recognize things that could be overlooked.

Dan is a consummate traveler and adventurer (ask him about his background- you’ll be duly impressed), so this list was more for my benefit than his.  Nonetheless, everything worked out and overpacking wasn’t an issue since the Honda Odyssey had plenty of cargo room.

No event goes well without careful planning- Here was my working list:


-  Reservations (Galveston/Brazos/Stephen Austin)
-  Card table
-  2x chairs
-  FT991A (Dave's)
-  Tuner
-  Doublet
-  Coax long
-  Coax patch
-  SWR bridge
-  Telescoping mast
-  Dacron cord
-  Weights
-  begali traveler paddle
-  headphones
-  headphone splitter   
-  plastic rope
-  Clipboard + pen
-  4x LiFePO4 batteries
-  Laptop
-  Laptop charger
-  power inverter
-  Extra power cable for Dan
-  fishing pole
-  ice chest
-  announcement cards
-  TSPOTA letter/ POTA handout
-  JSCARC placard

Lake Sheldon

This was the concentrated effort by the club supported by David KG5URA, Jayant KG5LJZ, George AD5CQ, and Dan KG5PVP.  Dan pitched his station (FT-991A+ End Fed antenna) underneath a covered shelter, while the other 2 stations were setup in the parking lots.  Interestingly, Dan’s end fed was modestly hung from a low tree branch to a wooden leg of the shelter at about 6′ (yes, it worked great!) . Dan experienced a minor injury when he was trying to toss a weight up the tree.  The weight decided to bounce off the trunk and back onto Dan’s upper lip.  Blood. Ouch.  Warning:  Ham Radio can be dangerous!

Every outing has a mystery and Dan gave us one:  After a while operating SSB, he switched to 20m CW.   The FT-991 and his End Fed only output about 40W?!  We swapped out modes, batteries, and cabling but no joy.  A bit of troubleshoot produced no change, although full output was seen during a rare instance.  Dan theorized that the ferrite core of his end fed balun was not rated for 100W and it may have heated up and decided to rebel.  Murphy sure was looking over Dan’s shoulder.

David KG5URA activated his impressive 31′ Eagle One vertical tailgate antenna and IC-705+amp while setup on a table adjacent to his truck.  Because his antenna is tailgate mounted, David’s setup was restricted to the parking lot about 300′ away from Dan.  This turned out to be a good separation for allow same band operation with manageable QRM between stations.

Jayant KG5LJZ (and myself W5OC) setup in another parking section a bit further down the park road, but still within eyesight of each other.  We setup on a grass strip only about 10 feet from the van using a survey’s tripod with a 30m fiberglass telescoping mast.  A homebrew random length Zepp with balanced feed line to a Dentron Jr manual tuner did all the RF heavy lifting while I also had an FT-991A.  Once we were live, Jayant used his callsign to receive activation credits and then switched over to the W5RRR callsign. 

This was about the time looming gray clouds decided to cool us down with a burst of rain.  *Everything* was hurriedly unplugged and wickedly thrown into the van to avoid ham’s worst nightmare… moisture.  Looking over to David’s setup, he did the same ASAP for his IC705 setup.

In the meantime, Dan leisurely enjoyed the protection from covered shelter and continued operating while the rest of us experienced an unplanned morning shower, and the terror of getting water into our treasured equipment.  Stupidly, I had a tarp in the minivan, but didn’t think of using it- it just happened too quickly to think.   “With age comes wisdom” sure didn’t work for me this time.

Operating in the public is always fun and we had a few folks stop by and ask what we were doing.  We helped promote our club by mounting the JSCARC large sign beside one of the stations.  One guy stopped by David’s station and shared he used to be ham.  In his early days, he operated from Lesotho, Africa and experienced being on the receiving end of a pileup.  After seeing us in operation, maybe he’s rethinking about getting active again and try out POTA…

George AD5CQ chose to come by and support the effort.  He taught all of us that there are 2 entrances into the park:  the north entrance from Garrett Rd to Park Road 138 works fine, albeit poorly marked. The southernly access from Beaumont Hwy (Business 90) is blocked off.  Unfortunately, George attempted to find us using a not-so-smart WAZE program, but the app kept trying to direct him to go through the blocked entrance!  To add insult to injury, he had to wait for a train to clear off the track before he could partially enter, only to find the closed gate further down the road. 

For future Sheldon Lake participants: please take note of George’s unfortunate experience so as to avoid a misdirected route into this park.

I normally use WAZE to help me get from point A to point B.  On this occasion WAZE took me north on I-45 to I-610 East and then to US-90 (East?).  I was to exit US-90 and go north on Miller Road #3 then turn right onto the Beaumont Highway (US-90 Alt???) then left to go into the park (see yellow marking on the map below).  At the left turn there were no markings at all.  No road/street name, no indication of the park entrance.  There are two railroad tracks.  I saw a train stopped on the track blocking my way to turn into the park entrance.  I waited a while and finally the train started to move.  By this time I was parked many yards down the road from the unmarked intersection.  When I saw that the train had passed the unmarked intersection, I made my way back to the intersection only to see a second train parked on the second set of tracks.  So, I turned around and went to a local gas station to kill time.  By this time the second train had started moving so I waited until it had passed and then made my way again to the unmarked intersection.  I was very disappointed to see across the two railroad tracks a locked gate across the park road entrance.  Still there were no signs naming the road or who owned the closed gate.  So, I plotted a course to the other side of the park and that is where I found the main park entrance.  WAZE did not detail the park road after the boundary of the park so I did not know that the road was not connected to the main park road inside the park.  The map below showing the road detail inside the park is from Mapquest.

Wrong way to Sheldon Lake Park!

Overall and a consistent mantra- 20m was the best band with good performance.  Luckily our relative spacing between stations worked relatively well while on the same band.  Just before noon, and after the rain showers, we finished off our event by passing the mic around to the group, to work a small pileup using the W5RRR callsign with Dave’s FT-991A and the Zepp.  Both George and David logged a solid string of stations before we hung it up for the afternoon.

The award for most ardent SSB operator goes to Jayant.  When working SSB, he would glibly announce, “this is W5RRR celebrating a special three-fer event: Texas State POTA, Regular POTA, and the NASA On The Air commemoration of the Ladee satellite”.  He is one smooth operator and not only promoted all three events at once but got a lot of hams pumped up to work us!

Working this contest was somewhat awkward- the contest exchange required activators to use a unique Texas Park designation, completely different than the regular POTA number.  Why didn’t they just use the POTA numbers?!  On SSB, we announced both; “you are 5×9 at P-100 and US-3013..”  Yes, it did confuse some of the hunters.  Many thought we were providing them with 2 POTA park numbers instead of a TSPOTA and POTA number.   I sure wish this will change in future TSPOTAS. 

To the best of my knowledge, we didn’t work any other participating TSPOTA stations here or throughout the rest of the day, which may indicate the relative obscurity of this contest’s overall popularity.  Nonetheless, it was a worthy effort to promote Texas parks, right?  Special shoutout to K6ICS, Michael Gauthier who is our NASA On The Air (NOTA) representative from JPL in California.  Luckily, we were able to get him in the log on SSB, but he was extremely weak.  Michael is almost 100% CW, so for him to switch to SSB for a QSO was quite a treat.  Thanks Mike!

It was lunchtime as we departed the park.   We spotted a Checkers hamburger drive-through at the corner gas station.  Its convenience was too good to pass, so we grabbed a double burger each.  WOW- these burgers were GREAT.  So that was our surprise takeaway from the TSPOTA journey.  All- be on the lookout for these burgers, you won’t regret it.


As Dan and were taking a photo in front of the park entrance (for contest bonus points), guess who we bumped into?  Joe K5KUA!  Turns out Joe followed our released route plans, and he was trying to track us down based on being at Galveston around 1:00pm.  Miraculously we were somehow on time even though Dan and I weren’t paying attention to the clock.  So, we got a great photo of the 3 of us in front of the GISP park sign before the three of us setup 2 stations on the beach side under the protection of two vacant beach shelters. 

The park was much more crowded compared to the usual early morning activations we’ve done in the past, so even though the parking lot was 80% full, we were quite lucky to have found a few empty picnic shelters by the water.  The bayside picnic shelters were all occupied.

Joe worked 20m CW using my same setup of a FT-991A, survey’s tripod, telescoping mast, and random length Zepp.  


Dan setup his FT-991A but brought out his tripod and telescoping mast as well.  This time Dan re-tried his End Fed antenna which seemed troublesome at Sheldon Lake.  To our joy, Dan’s setup worked fine for 20m SSB at full power with no issue. 


200′ separation between stations mostly worked without severe interference between each other. Conditions were very good, except for California.  The Ames Amateur Radio Club, NA6MF, was attempting to QSO with us but no joy.  We did work Mike K6ICS again, this time on 20m CW, but he was very weak as well as other Calif stations.

Many thanks to Joe K5KUA who helped us get W5RRR on the map with a nice string of CW multipliers.  Joe was immediately getting ready to head off to McKinney Falls Park, near Austin, to activate US-3038 through Thursday.  Safe travels, Joe.

Brazos Bend

The weather continued to behave as we entered Brazos Bend around 5:30PM- 2 hours behind our posted itinerary.  With only a day pass, we expected to quickly find an open picnic table for setup.  After meandering around in the park a bit, we felt the urgency to park and setup as the day was wearing on.  We decided to set up in a vacant campsite, hoping the spot was not reserved by a latecomer.  2 weeks ago, Brazos was completed sold out, but we simply hoped this site was abandoned due to the rain forecast, now our friend of opportunity.


The spot was perfect except for the buffalo mosquitos and chunky carpenter ants looking for handouts.  Deep Woods Off to the rescue!  After a generous misting, Dan settled in as our prime operator on the mic and I logged.  We ran a nice pileup for about 1 hour and decided to call it a day after 78 QSOs within 61 minutes.  I think both of us were still willing to hit to Stephen F Austin, but neither of us voiced it.  It was already a successful outing, and we were ready to call it a day.  We arrived back to Clear Lake around 7:30pm.

San Jacinto

The lure of getting two more bonus multipliers, got me out of bed Sunday AM for a quick TSPOTA trip to San Jacinto State park.

I setup at our usual covered area and got 20+ CW contacts in the log.

While operating, Rudy, KF5QYG stopped by to say hello.  We had an interesting chat about his efforts to help build a new club, currently convening through the new “Houston POTA” Facebook site. As a splinter from the BVARC and other clubs, Rudy and others are promoting rotational POTA events throughout the STX area, with an emphasis on providing multiple radios at each event.  They have had terrific success attracting many operators by utilizing a multiband DX Commander antenna interfaced with an HF multiplexer/bandpass filter so that multiple radios can simultaneously share the same antenna if each radio was on a different band.  Their last POTA event attracted about 40 participants.  Good job, Rudy. 

USS Battleship Texas

After an hour of ops at this San Jacinto Battleground Park, I then moved my location up about 800′ to activate the USS Battleship TEXAS site.  I setup about 800′ up the park nearby where the ship used to be docked.  Even though the ship was removed 2 years ago for renovation and is not destined to return (going to Galveston), the unique USS Battleship TEXAS park designation is still formally listed as a valid entity both for TSPOTA and POTA points-  so I took advantage of legally claiming this as a 2nd park activation for the day.  For Bonus Points, we’re asked to take a photo with a backdrop of the park.  Interesting to note that I couldn’t find *any* signage referencing the USS Texas Battleship- not even a poster or notice on at the tourist check-in deck.  It’s pretty clear that all evidence of this battleship’s past presence has been wiped clean- and I didn’t get a photo op for this site.

I ended up setting up my location on a grassy spot by the parking lot that used to serve tourists visiting the battleship.  I logged about 40 CW QSOs there mostly on 20m- a few on 15m.  I tried a few CQs on 40m with spotting, but no joy.  I was then planning to switch to 20m SSB, but suddenly about 20 cars in a row arrived at the parking lot area next to me.  Folks adorned in formal black Texas dress clothing began to converge at the nearby monument about 100′ from me.  I spied a large PA audio system and a bank of outdoor setup seat.  It was obvious, this was part of a San Jacinto Day Ceremony, and I would soon be fighting QRM once they began piping up the PA sound system for their program, so that drove me to call it quits for Sunday.

It was a great weekend for TSPOTA and W5RRR.

Nobody operated seriously as a contester, but just for the joy of getting some sunshine (and rain) while having an opportunity to promote JSCARC.  During the pileups, we were averaging 60-70 QSOs per hour, a respectable rate indeed.

Congrats and thanks to all the participants who made this fun and successful:  KG5PVP, KG5LJZ, KG5URA, AD5CQ, K5KUA, W5OC

For POTA activation credit, KG5PVP and KG5LJZ additionally operated under their own callsigns at times in some of the parks. Per TSPOTA rules, their separate scores will additionally count into our overall TSPOTA W5RRR club score.

Here are the W5RRR log summaries:

Sheldon Lake
Band   Mode    QSOs    Pts      Prk        Pt/Q
    14     USB     58         58        0          1.0

Band   Mode  QSOs     Pts       Prk       Pt/Q
    14     CW      22         44        0          3.0

Brazos Bend
Band   Mode  QSOs     Pts      Prk       Pt/Q
    14     USB     78         78        0          1.0

San Jacinto
Band   Mode QSOs     Pts      Prk       Pt/Q
    14    CW      22         44        0          3.0

USS Battleship TEXAS
Band   Mode    QSOs   Pts      Prk       Pt/Q
    14     CW      34         68       0          3.0

Dave W5OC

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