The Tonto National Forest in Arizona lifted all fire restrictions on Friday morning, so me and a buddy threw the camping gear and some radios in the truck and headed up the Four Peaks Road. For those unfamiliar with the area, about 30 miles north on AZ Highway 87 from Highway 202 in Mesa, AZ is the entrance to the Four Peaks Wilderness Area, part of the Tonto National Forest. After exiting the highway, it’s about a 20 mile drive on Forest Rd 143, which will take you all the way up to Browns Peak. This video from azoffroad.net shows what the drive is like. We made it up about 3/4 of the way before sunset and made camp at about 4500′. The next day we broke camp and headed to the peaks, where we encountered a locked gate. Some firefighters in a UTV arrived to unlock it for the public, but some idiot had apparently shot at the padlock attempting to open it themselves and damaged it so that the combination would not work. I noticed that one of the firefighters working on the gate was radioing for some tools, and observed frequency 168.35 MHz and tone 123.0 Hz in use on the his handheld. This is the FEDTRVL channel. This and FEDCOMN1 on 168.1 MHz are common channels used for communications between units that are traveling.
I did not photograph him or his radio, but it appeared to be a large Motorola handheld with an approximately 3 foot whip on it – maybe a 1/2 wave for that band? For any Arizona folks out there, I would encourage reading the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management’s Wildland Fire Radio Communications Guide. It contains lots of good information on the radio systems and common/mutual aid frequencies used by wild land firefighters throughout the state. The ADFFM does a daily VHF broadcast of current fire conditions in the state – super useful for camping and offloading during the fire season.
I was monitoring the 2m band at this time as well on the Kenwood TM-281A in my truck. I heard lots of activity on 146.52 MHz as usual for the Phoenix area, and it was easy to hear all the local simplex traffic at this elevation. 147.52 MHz is a popular 4×4/offroad frequency for hams he in AZ, but I did not hear any traffic or make any contacts this day. I suspect there were not a whole lot of people out on the trails just yet, we headed out just hours after the USFS announced fire restrictions had been lifted. I was also able to hit the Arizona Repeater Association’s Mt Ord repeater on 146.36 MHz.
I was also monitoring the GMRS band and had my main camping HT, a Btech GMRS-V1:
From my location near the top of the peaks, I had a direct line of sight of about 75 miles to the White Tanks mountains on the other side of the Phoenix metro area. The Arizona GMRS Repeater Club has a 50W GMRS repeater at a commercial site atop these mountains at about 4000′:
As soon as I turned on the radio I heard another club member loud and clear and gave him a quick hello. I received a good signal report back, and I also made contact with another club member. Reception was a little bit spotty, but moving around along the western face of the Four Peaks from about 5000′ and above allowed me to have decently clear RX and TX to the AGRC repeater. I camp and do some off roading in this area regularly, and I’m glad to know that I can have reliable 2m and GMRS radio contact for emergencies once I get above the smaller hills. The majority of the stretch of dirt road leading to the peaks does not have cell phone coverage from my provider, Verizon.
After the gate was opened for the public, we continued to drive over the saddle and across the Maricopa/Gila county border, reaching an elevation of about 6000′ feet.
Continuing a about a mile or so down Forest Road 143, I came across this communications tower, just 20 or so feet off the road:
A quick hike up a trail nearby shows a better view:
The sign at the site indicated it was owned by American Tower Corporation, however it stated that an FCC registration number was not required. A site number and telephone contact numbers were provided:
From a layman’s point of view this site appeared to be not in use, especially considering its location along a publicly accessible road. The building looked like it was not being maintained, I think no antennas were actually on the towers, and there was junk scattered around the site. The attached building which looked like a diesel generator also appeared to be somewhat in disrepair. I’m currently doing a but more research to see if any more information about this location is available.
Here is a map showing the entire length of Forest Road 143/Four Peaks Rd, going up and over the peaks to connect AZ Hwy 87 to AZ Hwy 188 and Roosevelt Lake:
The radios in my truck:
And of course some truck pics too!
After this, we headed down the eastern face of the four peaks and out of range of the PHX 500 repeater. The day ended with a swim in Apache Lake as we drove back down to the desert along the Apache trail and into the 100 degree temps! Another successful trip in to the Arizona wilderness, and like always, I definitely never leave without a radio.