K3ES Activates Waco Mammoth National Monument

Many thanks to Brian (K3ES) who shares the following guest post:

The National Park Service welcomes you to Waco Mammoth National Monument

Activating K-0975, Waco Mammoth National Monument

by Brian (K3ES)

At the end of November 2023, my wife and I loaded her minivan, and headed out into the first significant snowfall of the season.  I had already been out that morning in my 4WD truck to pull a friend’s car out of a ditch, so I was driving carefully.  Our drive took us from our home in northwest Pennsylvania to Baltimore, MD.  Happily, weather conditions improved as we went south and east.  We were meeting our son, daughter-in-law, and 2-1/2 year old grandson for a family trip to Waco, TX (we flew out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport early the next morning).  My wife and daughter-in-law are particular fans of Fixer-Upper and Chip and Joanna Gaines, all based in Waco.  Us men-folk were to be educated in the finer points of appreciating this pop-culture phenomenon.  Ultimately, we certainly did appreciate the finer points of dining in Waco.

One side-trip that amazed us all was a 10 minute drive up the road to Waco Mammoth National Monument.  This relatively new addition to the National Park system is also listed as Parks on the Air (POTA) entity K-0975.  Back in the days when the area occupied by the National Monument was private land, two exploring teenagers, who may not have had proper permission, found a bone, a big bone.  This bone was delivered to a local museum for identification, and ultimately determined to have been the femur of a female Columbian Mammoth.  Legalities being as they are, it took a while longer for the location of the discovery to be made public.  An interested and civic-minded land owner made the process less traumatic than might have been, particularly for the wandering teenagers.  He also started the process to preserve the site and its archaeological treasures for the public, ultimately leading to its designation as a National Monument.  Over subsequent years, archaeological excavation discovered a lot more bones – skeletons from an entire nursery herd of Columbian Mammoths, along with skeletons from other species that visited what was apparently a dangerous waterhole during the last ice age.

A view of the interior of the building constructed to protect the archaeological site.  Near the entry door is a full-sized artist’s rendition of a Columbian Mammoth.  Standing up to14 feet high at the shoulder, Columbian Mammoths were significantly larger than their better known Woolly Mammoth cousins.  This site is unique in that the bones of an entire nursery herd, including multiple females and their young, were found together here.
Some of the partially excavated mammoth skeletons contained in the enclosure building.
Also found in this excavation site was a Western Camel skeleton.  It is thought that the large number, numerous species, and wide range of ages of the skeletons discovered at this site resulted from entrapment in thick mud that formed the bottom of a persistent waterhole.

Since the discovery, many skeletons have been excavated and removed for study, but many more remain at the site awaiting future recovery.  A building has been constructed to cover the excavation and protect the remaining skeletons, and this building is the amazing focal point of the Waco Mammoth National Monument.  Ranger-led tours are available, and very much worthwhile.

Operating QRP CW on a beautiful afternoon at K-0975, Waco Mammoth National Monument.  My station is set up in a grassy field sometimes used for overflow parking.

Setting Up to Activate K-0975

After the tour and a look at the excavation site, I excused myself and set up to activate K-0975.  Before the trip, I had sent an email to Phil – WA5PQL, who is the most frequent activator at K-0975.  He was gracious and helpful in providing information about the park, the staff, and the locations most suitable for activating.  His assistance made a quick, low-stress activation a near certainty.  After checking in with the Park Rangers, I had directions and permissions, so all that remained a concern was HF propagation.

While the previous day had been overcast with drizzle, Friday, December 1, 2023, was sunny and warm.  It was perfect for walking around the site, and for an outdoor activation.  Unfortunately, the same sun that gave us the bright, warm day, had been active producing solar flares that could interfere with radio communications.  The only way to know for sure that I could make contacts was to set up my station and call CQ, so that is the path I chose.

Field kit contained in a re-purposed Peltor 4” x 6” x 9” padded headset pouch.  This compact kit was easily packed in a carry-on backpack for airline travel.  The pouch’s integral handle also made for easy transport to the activation site.

Field kit contents from the upper-left (click image above to enlarge):

  1. 33 gal trash bag for dry seating,
  2. 15 ft RG316 feedline with BNC male connectors,
  3. Two pieces of nylon cord,
  4. Medium-sized pill bottle to be filled with dirt or stones and used as a throw weight,
  5. 80 ft of Marlow Excel 2mm arborist’s throw line,
  6. BaMaTech TP-III paddles with connecting cable carried in an Altoids tin,
  7. Nail clippers as a TSA-approved tool,
  8. Elecraft KX2 transceiver with SideKX end-panels and polycarbonate cover,
  9. Tufteln 9:1 end-fed random wire antenna with 35 ft radiator and 17 ft counterpoise,
  10. Generic ear-bud headphones,
  11. Homebrew VK3IL-designed pressure paddles with adjacent protective sleeve sitting atop a plastic ziploc bag,
  12. Rite in the Rain notepad for logging,
  13. Pentel Twist-Erase 0.9mm mechanical pencil,
  14. Miscellaneous cable ties.

Not pictured is a Packtenna 10m collapsable fiberglass mast that was available, but not used for this activation.

I brought a very small, but capable, field kit based on my Elecraft KX2 and a Tufteln End-fed Random Wire antenna.  A couple of CW keys, a short feedline, and generic earbuds completed the station.  I also brought a notepad and a pencil for logging, a plastic garbage bag for seating, and some cordage.  The most peculiar part of my kit was a small pill bottle with a hole in its lid.  I filled the pill bottle with dirt, passed the end of a 2mm line through the lid and secured it with a knot.  I was able to use the dirt-filled bottle as a throw weight to get the line over a tree branch for raising the antenna, then I detached the bottle and returned the dirt.  All elements of the kit worked as intended, and TSA asked no questions during my trips through airport security.

A view of my operating position.  The KX2 is on the ground to my right, and barely visible is the feedline connected to the Tufteln 9:1 unun, and the radiating wire running up as a sloper to a tree at the edge of the grassy area.

I set up in a small field along the entrance road that the site uses for overflow parking on busy days.  It is bordered by trees with overhanging branches suitable to support an antenna.  So, after collecting a bit of dirt into my pill bottle for weight, and tying on the throw line, I tossed it over a convenient branch, pulled up my antenna wire, and set up the rest of the station in the grass.

Logging a contact in my operating position.  The KX2 is on the ground at left, VK3IL pressure paddles are held in my left hand.
Keying the VK3IL pressure paddles while operating.   I find it workable to key the paddles with my right hand, while still holding the pencil between my fingers.
I kept my cell phone on the opposite knee from the logging pad.  This let me keep track of my spot on POTA.app as the activation went along.

I spread out a standard garbage bag for a seat, which worked well since the grassy area was both soft and damp.  I sat cross-legged with my logbook on one knee, and my phone on the other (to monitor POTA spots).  I had the KX2 on the ground beside me, keyed using a homebrew VK3IL pressure paddle, and used my generic earbuds to keep as quiet and low-profile as possible.  All in all, this was a very serviceable shack for a short operating session.  I do have to admit that it was important for safety to stretch my legs out and let the blood flow return to my sleeping foot, before attempting to stand up at the end of the activation.

Shown on the map, 19 contacts from this activation were well distributed across the continental United States.

On the Air

From K-0975, as with nearly all of my activations, I operated in CW mode at 5 watts.  Since I had previously scheduled the activation, I called CQ on 20m and was quickly picked up by the Reverse Beacon Network and spotted on POTA.app.  Being automatically spotted let me know that propagation was being kind to my QRP signal, but getting the 10 contacts needed to complete the activation in a 12 minute window was still a pleasant surprise.  Phil – WA5PQL was among my first few contacts, and we completed two exchanges.  After making a successful POTA contact, he reduced power to 1 watt, and we confirmed a second contact.  While the second contact did not count towards the activation, it helped with his quest to work all states with 1 watt CW.

A prized QSL card delivered by Phil – WA5PQL during an eyeball QSO during my activation at K-0975.

I made a total of 11 contacts on 20m, then moved on to 30m, 40m, and 15m.  I made several contacts on 15m, a couple on 30m, but was surprised to get no takers on 40m.  In total, I finished with 19 contacts in 45 minutes.  I was quite pleased, and did not keep the family waiting for too long.  One pleasant surprise was that Phil drove over to the park from his home QTH, pulled into the parking lot, and handed me a QSL card as part of an eyeball QSO.  POTA activators are just a great bunch of people!


[Note: All Amazon links are affiliate links that support QRPer.com at no cost to you.]

A Giant Tortoise was another victim found among the bones at the site.
The complete skeleton of a female Columbian Mammoth lies in the excavated area.
It was a beautiful day to activate Waco Mammoth National Monument, K-0975, an amazing site that is well worth visiting.


Just a quick final note.  I had a great day at an amazing site, with some beautiful weather, and I got to enjoy it with family.  Even if solar conditions had been as bad as predicted, it would still have been worth the trip.  But predictions are just an educated best guess based on available data.  Where radio propagation is involved, experimental verification can be well worth the effort.  This activation certainly exceeded my expectations, and was a memorable way to get credit for my first park in Texas.

Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

6 thoughts on “K3ES Activates Waco Mammoth National Monument”

  1. Thanks, all. I must give credit to my wife for the photography. She’s a big help, because I often get so involved with the activation that I forget to take pictures… Best 73.

  2. Thanks Brian for the in-depth review of my favorite POTA park. Being only a few minutes from me I never fail to enjoy activating it. Thanks for letting me help and providing me the eye-ball QSO.

    1. Phil – Thanks for sharing your, knowledge, your park, and your time with me. K-0975 is a gem, and you it is wonderful that you have it close to home. Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.