POTA & SOTA at Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville, Alabama!

I had some big POTA plans for Alabama this summer.

After returning home from Hamvention, I had about three days to prepare my truck, our small travel trailer/caravan, and pack for one week of camping in Huntsville, Alabama.

We had a great excuse for hanging around Huntsville: my daughter was attending Advanced Space Academy (Space Camp) at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

The drive to Huntsville is about five hours and we decided that it would fun to go camping with not a whole lot to do for a week. Proper relaxation!

I looked at the POTA map in advance and plotted out at least four or five parks I could activate without driving too far. I planned to fit in activations on Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Thursday, we planned to spend the full day at the Space and Rocket Center and Friday was my daughter’s graduation.

My truck, though, had other plans!

About half way on our journey to Huntsville, my 1997 Dodge Ram 2500 started to have issues. Without going into too much detail here, there seemed to be a problem with the accelerator.

We drove to Huntsville on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, so not an ideal time to have mechanical issues. I limped to truck to Alabama and waited for a diesel shop in Huntsville to open on Tuesday morning.

In the meantime, I was able to hunt POTA and SOTA stations from our campsite which overlooked the Space Camp model rocket launching station. No kidding: we probably witnessed some 300 model rocket launches during the day that week and it was an absolute blast (pun intended).

I never got tired of seeing a full scale Saturn V model above the tree line on our evening walks!

Fortunately, the diesel shop was able to sort out the issue and fix it in one day–I was super pleased with that. However, that only left Wednesday to play POTA–we’d already plotted out a visit to Monte Sano State Park. That was fine by me because, turns out, almost the entirety of Monte Sano State Park is also within a SOTA activation zone! A SOTA/POTA two-fer!

Monte Sano State Park (K-1048 & W4A/HR-002)

We arrived at Monte Sano in the morning and took one of the longer loop hikes around the park. It was a beautiful day; the weather couldn’t have been more ideal.

There were several spots to stop for long-range views.

After our hike, we made our way to the main picnic area to enjoy lunch together then my wife and daughter planned to do a little water color art while I played radio!

Setting up

It’s funny, but I have the most difficult time deciding where to set up when I have a lot of options. At the Monte Sano picnic area, there were loads of great spots where I could have set up. This would be an ideal spot for a club to host Field Day.

I picked a site with a tree that would be ideal for my PackTenna 9:1 End-Fed Random Wire because I would be able to orient the radiator vertically. The only trick was that the branches were short and close to the tree trunk, so it wouldn’t be the easiest to snag with my arborist throw line.  Note that I actually take you along for the ride in my activation video below.

Fortunately, I had the good fortune of snagging the best branch on the first throw! Woo hoo!

I used my 8oz throw weight to hold this super lightweight antenna in place.

Now to set up the radio, key, logs, and hop on the air!


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On The Air

Knowing just how bad propagation was from hunting stations for a few days, I had low expectations for this activation.

I decided that my time would be best spent on the higher bands since 30 meters and below seemed to be suffering. Twenty meters had been the most productive the previous day.

I started calling CQ SOTA on the 20 meter band first.

Side note: When I activate a spot that’s both a POTA and SOTA site, I tend to call CQ SOTA because that program is much smaller than the likes of POTA. That and POTA hunters are very much used to logging SOTA activators that are doing dual activations.

I logged my first ten stations on 20 meters in eleven minutes thus validating both my SOTA and POTA activations in very short order.

I then logged eight more stations on 20 meters before QSYing to 17 meters where I logged nine more stations.

I also tried calling CQ on 10 meters, 15 meters, and 12 meters. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to log any contacts on those bands.

In the end, I walked away with a total of 27 logged contacts. What fun!


Here’s what this 5 watt activation looked like when plotted out on a QSO Map. Thanks to 8P9CB, I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve logged Barbados during a SOTA or POTA activation!

Activation Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation.  As with all of my videos, I don’t edit out any parts of the on-air activation time. In addition, I have monetization turned off on YouTube, although that doesn’t stop them from inserting ads before and after my videos.

Note that Patreon supporters can watch and even download this video 100% ad-free through Vimeo on my Patreon page:

Click here to watch and subscribe on YouTube.

We had such an amazing time in Huntsville despite the truck issues.

Unfortunately, on the way home the following Saturday, the truck started experiencing yet another issue–a much more expensive and serious one. It’s in the shop now, in fact, awaiting a new fuel injector pump. I suppose this is par for course with a 27 year old vehicle. The straight six, 12 valve engine is bullet-proof; it’s everything else under the hood that needs to be replaced!

Bonus photos

Here are a few photos from the displays at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. If you’ve never visited this fine museum, I can highly recommend it. We’ve visited perhaps four times in the past 10 years and there’s always something new to see.

I’ve always wanted a replica of the amazing Apollo era DSKY!

The Saturn V building is spectacular. What’s even more amazing is that many of the docents are museum volunteers who actually worked in the Apollo program. If you see a man or woman walking around in a white lab coat and holding a notebook, make time to introduce yourself and ask about their experiences. I promise: it’s the best part of the museum experience.

Thank you

Thank you for joining me on this activation!

I hope you enjoyed the field report and my activation video as much as I enjoyed creating them.

Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.

As I mentioned before, the Patreon platform connected to Vimeo make it possible for me to share videos that are not only 100% ad-free, but also downloadable for offline viewing. The Vimeo account also serves as a third backup for my video files.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me! Have an amazing weekend!

Cheers & 72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

9 thoughts on “POTA & SOTA at Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville, Alabama!”

  1. Thomas, Great report, and activation. As a kid, I remember the Apollo Moon Landings. It’s always a fascination when you look up into a star-filled evening sky.

    de W7UDT

  2. Very cool! Yes, I always respond to any CQ SOTA that I hear (especially if I’m doing a POTA activation). I really admire the effort that goes into SOTA and most likely the OP is running QRP to a simple antenna. (And it’s often a POTA P2P.)
    Hope I can make it to the Huntsville Hamfest this year. Never been to it before. I lived near Huntsville for a year a while back and it’s beautiful country.

  3. Loved this report. This one was especially interesting because I grew up in Madison close to Huntsville. Saw the Space Center born and grow and grew up with the space program from its birth. My dad (93 now) worked over 30 years on electronics for NASA. Monte Sano was a great hiking area when I was in the scouts. Huntsville has grown a lot. Thanks for the great trip report, glimpse of my home town area and shots of the Space Center. Congratulations to your daughter for her space camp experience.

  4. What a great activation, and an even better report of it; you really captured the flavor of the experience. Enjoyed all of the pictures, too! Saturn V in the background, the DSKY and the other “hardware”, the view from the bluff …

    Your side note about CQ-ing caught my attention too, as I have done one POTA/SOTA twofer and plan on doing more; Wisconsin has lots of possible sites! I hope I can remember to do that when out in the field.

    Oh, and congratulations to your daughter on Advanced Space Camp!


  5. Thomas, I was a Navy Radio operator and was on the recovery team to pick up John Glenn. He missed his reentry window by a few seconds and ended in the Atlantic away from the Carrier that was to recover him. I was part of a support group, a Destroyer “DD867.” Our sister ship the NOAR, actually plucked him out of the water. We could not get the bolts on the hatch loose and Glenn had to blast them off with explosives embedded in the hatch bolts.
    73 Tom…NG4S worked you several times form SC….

    1. Wow, Tommy! That is absolutely fascinating! What an amazing life experience you’ve had! Thank you for sharing this.

  6. PackTenna appears to be out of business. If not, there’s no explanation on their website. Time to shop elsewhere.

    1. George (KJ6VU) is basically a one-man show with PackTenna and he’s trying to get production running again after moving and back-to-back international business trips. I understand that he’s getting things prepared for the assembly house and Mark (N6MTS) will be shipping once everything is built. PackTenna has been out-of-stock for some time, but they will have more inventory this year and it’ll likely sell out quickly.

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