Why are ham fests sometimes in very strange locations?

A couple of posts ago we wrote about Herb’s and Jim’s unplanned 10 mile hike in the desert.  More significant, really, is why were we in the middle of Arizona’s desert at all? You might already know we are suckers for interesting or unusual ham radio conventions. A ham radio convention in the middle of Arizona’s desert would probably be interesting and unusual. We’d heard about Quartzsite for several years and wanted to get there. This seemed like a great opportunity, and we only had a drive of 160 miles to get there.

Less than 700 miles to visit a new hamfest? Let's go!

Some of you dear readers may recall our post two years ago when Debbie and Jim drove to Essex, in the top of Montana for a famous ham fest.  We had heard of the oldest continuous running (once per year, that is) ham radio convention, the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park Hamfest. And so upon departing Gillette Wyoming in early July 2010 we reasonably figured, since we were only 600 miles away, we should take the opportunity to visit Essex Montana and see this venerable ham fest first hand. It was pretty neat and sharpened our interest in unusual ham fests.

and the camels are another story entirely

The recent week we spent dry-camping in the Arizona desert was pretty much the opposite in several ways. Glacier National Park can be very chilly even in the middle of July.  Everything in Glacier National Park is either green (evergreen trees, grass, moss) or white (ice and snow), with just a little brown (bears and deer).  The Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park HamFest is 78 years running so far, versus a few years for QuartzFest.  And camping in any campground near Glacier National Park is a bit costly — we camped free at Quartzsite (except a donation to the organizer to help cover paper and printer cartridges.)

very cool hex beam antenna for W7Q station

Some things are remarkably similar between the two hamfests.  At neither hamfest did we see any ham radio vendors (although one almost always does).  Both hamfests are pretty close to an international border (Canada and Mexico).  Both hamfests involve dry camping although in Quartzsite the term takes on additional significance — everything is really really dry.  Both hamfests had very dedicated RVing hams with some really interesting antenna setups.  Both hamfests had special event stations allowing attendees the opportunity to operate from a different location and try using different gear than in their own station. Both hamfests had well-organized presentations on various subjects.

another big antenna on small RV

The QuartzFest rally seemed huge compared to the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park HamFest.  We might have had 75 rigs at Glacier-Waterton, and we had 400 rigs at QuartzFest.  We never had seen such a big collection and wide variety of amateur radio antennas as at QuartzFest.  Not all were RV-portable – many were tall masts with two and three sets of ropes guying the antennas against the winds.

Much easier to clean and aim than on the roof

Oh, and we saw assorted ways to collect solar energy for electricity as well as several wind generators. We went to a lot of work putting our solar panels on the Airstream’s roof — they would be low maintenance (sort of) and pretty secure from theft or damage. Tilting the solar panels wasn’t in our original scheme and weekly wiping of the panel’s glass surface (necessary in the dirty dusty desert and even in Mesa) requires setting up and climbing the ladder. We like this portable panel idea more and more.

THE place to be for fish on Fridays

When in Quartzsite, do as the Quartzsitians do? We followed our friends Bob K9WMP and Laura K9BZY from Mesa to Quartzsite since they knew where to go. And we followed them to Sweet Darlene’s restaurant for Friday fish dinner our first evening. Without Bob and Laura we probably would have given up this idea when we saw the lineup outside the restaurant — this place was hopping. Herb and Lois, Tom and Debbie, Bob and Laura, and the two of us were deluded if we thought we would get to sit together in this place.

Sweet Darlene's does big biz on Fridays

The line moved reasonably quickly and we soon found out why — you don’t wait for a table of four, or six, or eight — you wait for a couple of chairs anywhere close to each other and you forgo sitting with your larger party. Your food order at Sweet Darlene’s Friday fish dinner is simple. Fried fish, cole slaw, and a slice of bread are on all the plates — you choose what style potatoes.

Our order was simple and the food was good

Except our wait person was so frazzled by the time she arrived at our table she asked what style fish we wanted. Faked us out briefly then we all had a big laugh — there’s one style fish at Friday fish dinner at Sweet Darlene’s, and it was good.

Can we take one of these home?

People we meet in Mesa think of Quartzsite as a place to shop for gems and geodes. While we don’t frequent rock shops we have been in a few. We’ve never seen anything equalling these huge geodes. We didn’t see any price tags but wonder if everything is for sale at some price.

Clearly the biggest tent we've ever shopped in!

Another thing most people do in Quartzsite is browsing the shops. Sweet Darlene’s has graduated from a tent enclosure to a completely enclosed metal structure. Some of the shops are in metal buildings but most were in tents. One of the tents seemed as big as a football field and was chock full of vendors representing nearly every facet of support and supply for RVing.

US Gov't perhaps runs most smoothly when done by volunteers

We camped in Road Runner RV area of the BLM land 6 miles south of Quartzsite. BLM required us to register and receive a 14-day camping permit (at no cost), allowing us to park anywhere within a vast area of the desert. The closest dump station and fresh water resupply was in Quartzsite, and we couldn’t even find a 30 amp power pole in our camp site. Nor did we really expect one, we knew we’d be conserving water and battery power both.

We’ve dry camped numerous times but had not previously done nearly so well with our fresh water. We used less than 20 gallons total of fresh water in five days for all uses — cooking, drinking, and bathing. Our Airstream travel trailer carries 40 gallons, so we had water aplenty. Not so capable though is our 19 gallon black water holding tank. The only thing it serves is our toilet.

Some of the 20 gallons of fresh water had to have gone into the 40 gallon gray water holding tank, right? We bathed each day and used our sink for pot and utensil washing. But the 19 gallon black water holding tank was nearly full after five full days use. Very nearly all our toilet flushing was with dish water or bathing water, so precious little fresh water found its way to our gray water holding tank. If only we could find a way to expand our black water carrying capacity. Who would have thought we’d wish for such a thing, eh?

Our best (and only) Quartzsite neighbors

We were grateful to Herb and Lois for sharing their Winnebago’s generator with us twice a day. We ran an extension cord 100 feet between our RV and theirs and they would bump our batteries up a little. It was nice to have their big old generator send some extra energy our way a couple times daily. Even nicer, though, was camping with them and sharing meals, conversations, and spending evenings at card games or watching movies together.

Our solar panels did fine but one pair of 6-volt batteries just don’t have enough depth for our uses (this is not necessarily a mutually held opinion). We like to read at night. Our water pump, fridge controls, and propane leak detector all use battery power. Oh, and the ham radio can use a bunch (22 amps @ 12vdc) of battery power. One of us likes to have enough battery power left by morning to do a little chatting on our HF (long distance) ham radio. More power = a good thing, right? Unless you were a ho-hum-ham and might ask, “Jim, what problem are you trying to solve with all this?”

Maybe keeping busy is a good thing in itself? Jim’s been busy since we returned from Quartzsite. Our solar panels are, after four years flat use, tilt-able. We are on the verge of more than doubling our storage battery capacity from two 6v 220 amp hour batteries to four 6v 232 amp hour batteries. Results are encouraging on tilting the solar panels and we think the battery change will be a significant boost. We’ll get back to the details about these two changes in another blog.

Stay tuned — we’ll be back soon!

 

 

 

Jim and Debbie

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5 responses to “Why are ham fests sometimes in very strange locations?

  1. Thanks for the stories…always wondered what went on at a ham radio gathering. Sounds like good improvements on the Airstream, ‘specially those tiltable solar panels. And more batteries!

    Where did you find the room ? Most astonishing of all is that low use of water. How on earth did you do it for that length of time with only 20 gallons consumed? Sponge-baths or what? You two are an inspiration…we hope to be full-timing it in 14 months.

    • Rob, You’re correct on the bathing — we would draw a small pail (+/- 1 gal) of clean warm water and sponge bathe. If dish water is fairly clean we add it to the pail after bathing. This comprises flushing water, dispensed with a small stadium cup to swish rinse the toilet bowl after each use. Notably, we had zero access to other facilities whilst at the Quartzfest — no porta-jons, no comfort stations, and no trees to hide behind. This was our first attempt at dry-camping without any supporting facilitites.

      Many times previously we have camped without hook-ups and for up to ten days without problems, even in very cool nights (19 degrees F). But we would spend all day away from the trailer and even at the trailer would have shower and washroom facilities within no more than a one block walk. So this was a neat experience for us, and we’ll try it again without reservation.

      Jim

  2. Selene Montgomery KG4RMT

    Hi Jim and Debbie,

    Lois Maas referred me to your blog and I can see I have a lot to catch up on. We left Orlando Hamcation yesterday and everyone definitely missed your smiling faces. We are in the slow process of making our way toward the RV fulltime lifestyle. Look forward to seeing you somewhere down the road.

    • Selene,
      Four or five years straight attending HamCation, and this year we felt the attraction undeniably. We wanted to see you and Hank and the others we sometimes only see at HamCation Orlando and Hamvention Dayton. Maybe we’ll find ourselves in Dayton and have a chance to see you two there. Thanks for thinking of us and for writing — it’s great to hear from you, Selene.

      Jim

  3. Pingback: Battery Monitoring in Our RV | Dreamstreamr Odyssey

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