Coverage of the rivercourse from
various radio sites for the
Friendship Cruise

Not too many years ago communications amongst stations on the Friendship Cruise was exclusively via HF - specifically 75 meters.  This has the definite advantage of not needing to rely on other infrastructure to support relaying of signals but it has the significant disadvantages of being cumbersome (relatively large antennas) and most importantly, being somewhat marginal and at the mercy of propagation conditions:  The daytime paths on 75 meters, which are fairly "local" (radius of a couple hundred miles, more or less) can simply vanish in response to a solar outburst, and it becomes unusable in the evening when the band goes "long" and local signals are overriden by those half a continent away.
A general overview map showing those area where various sites were audible to any degree.  The other maps below show more detail as to quality of coverage.
Click on the image for a larger version.

Although attempts had been tried in years past, communications on 2 meters just wasn't practical for many parts of the rivercourse owing to extremely weak signals due to poor propagation into and out of the deep river gorges.  By the 90's, high performance, compact VHF and UHF radios had become common so more attempts were made to find ways to make a VHF-based communications system work - and this meant locating sites that had vantage points geographically situated to be more likely to provide good coverage.

One of the first attempts to map the actual coverage provided by some of the ad-hoc radio systems set up during the cruise was done when I was on a rescue boat for the first time in 1995:  I took notes as to where I was and how well I'd heard the signal.  While these notes were useful, they simply outlined the need for more detailed information.

More detailed coverage notes:

In 1996, I found myself on a rescue boat again.  This time, I was armed with more technology to be able to accurately record my observations.  By this time, I had my (then) new Magellan GPS-4000 receiver and I'd interfaced it with my trusty old Radio Shack Model 100 laptop computer (you try to find a laptop nowadays that will run from 20+ hours continuously on 4 AA batteries...)  I had also written a program that, once every so-often (about every 60 seconds) would record the current latitude, longitude, elevation, as well as allow me to enter text comments.

On that trip I made a concerted effort to, whenever I could, type in my observations as to how strong a particular signal was in terms of S-meter reading and overall copiability.  When a repeater was involved, I'd also included notes as to how well other reported my being able to get into it.  With a number of systems to test, I was constantly switching memory channels to make observations.

These observations were, shortly after the 1996 Friendship Cruise, translated to the map you see here.  This is the original hand-annotated map made at the time:  It was simply scanned and the contrast/colors enhanced for improved legibility.

Please note:  The indications of coverage on the "general coverage" map are those areas where coverage is possible but not necessarily usable.  This map simply shows those areas where I was able to hear something of the radio system in question.  For example, the map shows Spring Canyon as being audible in Green River:  It is, but it is very spotty and to use it, one would need to find a hot spot and stay there.  It should go without saying that just because one can hear a site, it doesn't mean that one can successfully transmit through it.  It should also go without saying that even if a site provides spotty coverage, it may be possible to improve on its usability using different techniques.

The general map also notes the coverage of some of the repeaters of the Sinbad system.  Not surprisingly, the coverage on the rivers was very sparse, but this was expected as very few signals can find their way into deep river gorges.
This map shows the observed coverage of the "Mineral Relay" site.
Click on the image for a larger version.

The Mineral Relay site:

In April of 1996 a group of us set out to validate a few sites that we believed to have the potential of good coverage - and maybe find a few more.  One of the sites that we'd wondered about was above Mineral canyon, so we set up a beacon.  This beacon consisted of a fiberglass collinear antenna atop a 20+ foot fiberglass mast, a 2 meter FM transceiver set at 10-20 watts, and a quickly thrown-together controller that, every 30 seconds or so sent a "V" in MCW and an ID every 5-6 minutes.  Placed in a plastic box on a rise a little ways off the main road toward Mineral Bottom, this setup radiated a signal that we monitored as we drove about the area.  In placing this beacon, we were hoping to see if this site did, indeed, show some promise in covering portions of the upper Green River.

Almost from the beginning it became obvious that this site (one that we called "Mineral Relay") wasn't the best choice:  The terrain gently slopes down toward the river for several miles before ending in a dramatic cliff cut by a road that is treacherous when wet.  While the land above is well above the river, inspection on a topographical map reveals that even the top of the cliff is at an elevation that is well-below much of the terrain surrounding the river both up and downstream.

Nevertheless, during our 2-day exploration we left the beacon up and noted how well it covered wherever we went - as long as we stayed "high."  It provided somewhat spotty coverage in the direction of Grand View point, somewhat better coverage at Dead Horse Point, and was easily heard at the Needles, Anticline and Canyonlands Overlooks on the east side of the Colorado river.
Observed coverage of the Spring Canyon relay.
Click on the image for a larger version.

The coverage of a radio site above Mineral Canyon (but not in the exact same spot as the test beacon) was one of those that I'd carefully noted while I was on the rescue boat in 1996 and this is shown on the map.  I never did find anywhere on the river that was extremely well-covered by this site, but was not too surprising owing to the fact that radio site itself was set back some distance from the edge of the cliff and did not have a direct view of the river.  While not likely at the very same site, another repeater was set up at the top of the cliffs near Mineral Canyon during the 2005 Friendship cruise and Kelly, KV7V, on one of the rescue boats, reported results similar to those seen here.

Spring Canyon:

One of the sites tried in 1996 and/or 1997 by Chris, KB7TPO, was in the area of Spring Canyon Point.  With this site, just upstream from Bowknot Bend, it was hoped that some of the more difficult-to-reach places along the upper Green would be covered.  As can be seen from the coverage map, the results were mixed.

While it was encouraging that the signal was observed even at Green River, the signals were very weak and spotty until several miles up from Tenmile Canyon.  Not surprisingly, coverage around Bowknot Bend was very good, but by the time one reached Mineral Canyon, they were weak and spotty again.  Note that the extent of coverage below Mineral is unknown, as the temporary station at Spring Canyon was only online for a day and that the rescue boat that I was on did not go below Mineral canyon while it was in operation.
Observed coverage of the Willow Flat relay.
Click on the image for a larger version.

Willow Flat:

For several years, John, W7CWK, stayed at the Willow Flat campground during the cruise and set up a relay station.  The idea of this station was to provide some coverage of the lower Green river and the area around the confluence.

As can be seen from the map, the coverage of this relay begins somewhere below Bowknot bend and extends a short distance up the Colorado river through the confluence.  To date, it had provided, by far, the best coverage of the southern end of the Green, making possible "other-than-HF" communications with the boats stationed at the confluence.

It wasn't without its drawbacks, however:  On at least one occasion, John had been hassled by the Park Service ranger who insisted that he remove the antennas he'd put on a mast at his trailer at the campsite, a position contrary to that of one of her colleagues earlier in his stay.  Since the Panorama Point site has been used, no operations have occurred at this site.

Canyonlands Overlook:
Observed coverage of the Canyonlands Overlook repeater.
Click on the image for a larger version.

The "discovery" of this site was somewhat serendipitous.  On our April 1996 "investigation" trip (the one during which we operated our test beacon from near Mineral Point) we went over to the area of the Needles Overlook to survey possible sites in that neighborhood.  Clearly, Needles overlook was a possibility.  If we could get the blessings (and appropriate permission) of the authorities, we envisioned that we could set up a system at or near the Needles Overlook campground.  We also investigated Anticline Overlook, a site that also commanded a good view of the Colorado River gorge - but it was farther north than we'd liked and the view southward toward the confluence was somewhat blocked by the terrain.

In driving south from Anticline Overlook we noticed on the map the notation indicating a dirt road and a place called "Canyonlands Overlook."  After locating the then-unmarked and undistinguished turnoff from the main road, we followed the path to its end and found ourselves at a cliff edge with a very good view up and down the Colorado River - with the bonus (for someone staying there for a few days) of there being a standard-issue cinder-block outhouse!

Checking the map, we realized that this was probably as good a location as we were likely to find for Colorado River coverage and, that very year, it was put on the air the first time by Mike, K7DOU.  That year also happened to be the same year that I was on the rescue boat with my GPS and laptop, so I was able to quantify the coverage of the radio site as well, with the results shown on the map.

Panorama Point:

While on the boat in 1996, we heard from some amateur radio operators that had happened to be camping at Panorama Point.  This site is west of the Confluence, but it has a pretty straight shot (geographically speaking) up the Green River toward the town of Green River.  As it happened, the rescue boat from which I was operating was in the canyons just above Mineral Bottom when they appeared on the air and, while they were in the vicinity of Panorama point operating mobile, I was able to verify that this site at least had the possibility of being useful for coverage into the Green River gorge.
A coverage map of the Panorama Point repeater.
Click on the image for a larger version.

In late April/early May 1997, Gordon (K7HFV) and I went down to Panorama Point to seriously investigate its possible use as a repeater site and were pleased at what we had found:  It had a very good view toward the north and in the direction of the confluence, and the geography of the site was well suited for providing good separation (and isolation) between the transmitter and the receiver.

In testing coverage at that site from the mobile rig, we found that a few other hams scattered through the area seemed to have no trouble hearing us.  We were surprised when heard Randy, KG7GI, on the the simplex frequency that we'd happened to be using - and even more surprised when he reported that he happened to be near Moab, mobile out-and-about on vacation.

Encouraged, we had the organizers of the Friendship Cruise get the permit for our use of the site and that year it was on the air for the first time, using a 50 watt transmitter and a vertical collinear (see the picture of that site here.)  As it turned out, Elaine Jones, N7BDZ, happened to be one of the operators on a rescue boat and she was kind enough to take detailed notes and annotate a map as to where she was able to hear and get into the Panorama Point repeater:  The result of those notes may be seen on the map.  It should be noted that Elaine did not check the coverage of the Panorama Point repeater upstream of the Amasa Back, but MGM bottom and the Moab boat dock use it without too much difficulty until the Canyonlands Overlook repeater comes online.

Ironically, Panorama Point is not the place to go if you want to see the river:  Only a few very short sections of the Green River may be seen at all - a situation quite different from Canyonlands Overlook.  It is because of its high altitude (over 6200 feet) and nearly straight shot in line with both the Green and Colorado river courses that makes it a good radio site.

For a more-detailed technical description of the radio system used at Panorama Point, see the Friendship Cruise Panorama Point Technical Details page.

Additional sites:

Ron Jones, K7RJ, has, on different occasions, set up several relays nearer to the city of Green River, with one of them being in the area of Keg Knoll, and another several miles south of Crystal Geyser on a point overlooking the Green.  While this latter site did provide excellent coverage on the extreme upper end of the course on the Green, precise details on how well these sites covered farther down aren't known:  Perhaps someone who was on the boat at the time could fill in some details.

Final comments:

Most of this information was gathered in 1996 and 1997 and since then some of the sites (e.g. Willow Flat, Spring Canyon, and Mineral) mentioned have seen little if any use.  It should also be pointed out that the coverage of the two main sites, namely Panorama Point and Canyonlands Overlook, have been improved by changes in technique and technology and practice.

Additional Friendship Cruise-related pages:

For those that wish to have a powerpoint version of the Canyonlands Overlook, Panorama Point and Willow Flat coverage maps, click here.  (Powerpoint version courtesy of of Mike, K7DOU;  Size = approx. 1.3 meg) Go to the KA7OEI main page.

If you have any questions about this event, or about any of the equipment or techniques used, you may contact Clint, KA7OEI via email.

This page was last modified on 20110606.  Text and images are copyright 2001-2011 by Clint Turner and all rights are reserved.

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