A friend is working on a documentary of the AT&T Long Lines network, which was built out from 1950-199X. Some sections are still in use for rural telephony, but most links have been shut off in place.
Our first trip is to Owls Head in the Southern end of Death Valley. 43 miles off highway 127 and 40 miles North of Baker, CA.
My first choice for the trip was a pair of Jeep Grand Cherokees, but we were advised by the rental agency that they've been recalled and could not be rented. After missing one day of filming already, we settled for a 2015 Suburban and 2015 Santa Fe.
The first 12 miles is an easy, albeit washboarded gravel/silt road, which was easily conquered as evidenced by the yolo kids in the SantaFe:
After 20 miles, the road becomes a "high clearance 4x4 only" path, which worried me a bit. I was the only one with any off-road driving experience, but a pair of radios was perfect for relaying instructions to the other driver as demonstrated by Corey:
There were many wash crossings, which were dry and fairly firm. I'm pleased to say the recovery gear never made it out of the car. For 1-2 miles, the road IS the wash, which could spell disaster if the rains come. But our resident meteorologist, Dallas Raines, assured me it would be bone dry.
The Suburban was fantastic off road and on. Ergonomics were great and the fit and finish was fantastic. The stereo was another high point with no fewer than 5 USB inputs. The biggest surprise came in the fuel economy. Our round trip from DTLA to Owls Head resulted in a combined 21.5mpg!!!
The last 10 miles of the trail were filled with washes and some more technical crossings, but we powered through with a spotter and several spotlights. At 9pm, after the final ascent, we spotted our destination on the ridge:
I can't remember the last time I've seen so many stars above. Light pollution 100 miles away made for an ominous backdrop, which was invisible to the eye, but not to my camera. If you look closely at the horizon, you can see the trails from the fighter jets which were buzzing around the valley.
Around 11pm, the moon made an appearance over the ridge and positioned itself between the legs of the tower:
On the left side of the image above the leftmost fencepost, you can make out the light from a fighter performing aerobatics in the dark of night. We could certainly hear it.
After a good night's rest, which was assisted by plenty of beer and some nice scotch, we awoke to an incredible sight.
AT&T Long Lines engineers were the best in the world. This 50-year-old structure is as solid as the day it was built. It's hard to comprehend the scale of these sites as the proportions are so wonky.
To give you an idea of the size of these KS Horn Antennas, my head is level with the top of the chain where it attaches to the antenna:
Sean illustrates the scale of these things:
Jack (the filmmaker) was busy flying his drone to capture aerial footage of the site.
We moved the vehicles down the road to clear the site for filming and ended up seeing another visitor. An engineer from the NSF was out to work on an Earth Scope site, which had gone offline.
He took time to show us how the system worked, so I took his photo.
After Chris from the NSF left, the fighter jets made an appearance.
If you open this image in a new window, you can see the other Earth Scope on the upper right side. That site is 18 miles away and links to Owls Head.
Later that afternoon while exploring around, I heard some more aircraft, but couldn't make out the shape. It definitely looked different from anything I've seen before. Dude we were with called it a "doughnuts-on-a-rope" contrail. He made references to a pulse jet. I took this photo with a wide angle 10 minutes after the contrail formed.
Finally got my telephoto lens to take closeups:
All good things must come to an end, so we packed up later that day and headed home.
As daylight turned to twilight, the pace slowed a bit. One last shot of the stunning landscape before we lost all the light: