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    Thread: Decided to go on a road trip deep into Death Valley

    1. Member mikegilbert's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 04:32 PM #1
      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:



      Mission accomplished!
      Last edited by mikegilbert; 03-13-2015 at 01:10 AM.

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    3. Member jreed1337's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 04:36 PM #2
      very cool!
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    4. Member 2000JettaGLXVR6's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 04:43 PM #3
      I love the desert, thanks for sharing!
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    5. Senior Member NoDubJustYet's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 04:44 PM #4
      Awesome pics!


    6. Member Tornado2dr's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 04:46 PM #5
      This is great!

    7. Member Stangy's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 04:49 PM #6
      Amazing pics

    8. Member euro+tuner's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 04:51 PM #7
      Gah I always enjoy seeing your photography!

    9. Member Doug Butabi's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 04:53 PM #8
      You are extremely talented.

    10. Member Seki's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 04:54 PM #9

    11. Member XM_Rocks's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 04:55 PM #10
      Wow.

      Thanks for sharing.

    12. Member romanl's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 04:59 PM #11
      awesome photography

    13. Senior Member chucchinchilla's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 05:04 PM #12
      Pleasantly different from standard TCL drivel. Great photography, scenery, and an interesting structure. What exactly does/did that tower do?
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    14. Geriatric Member ValveCoverGasket's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 05:12 PM #13
      awesome stuff

      probably a decent time of year to be stopping by death valley

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      03-12-2015 05:18 PM #14
      Awesome. Thank you for sharing, Mike.

      I'm assuming that tower is no longer in active use?

    16. Member mikegilbert's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 05:25 PM #15
      Thanks, guys!

      The Long Lines network was built by AT&T to carry telephone, government (presidential "red phone" aka AUTOVON) communications and TV programming across the country. Satellites weren't cost-effective or even ready for the mainstream and the aging wireline and coaxial cables couldn't handle the call volume. The radio communication network for Air Force one, known as "ECHO-FOXTROT" was also carried by the network. Many towers were known as ground entry points.

      Most sites were hardened facilities with thick concrete walls. Some were completely underground with radiological detection systems which would close the blast doors if a strike should occur. With the invention of fiber optics, most of the Long Lines microwave network was shut down in the late 90s. Many routes still exist for rural telephony.

      A good page to learn more: http://long-lines.net/places-routes/index.html

      Here's a map we (all long-lines nuts) are working on. I've added many sites in OR, WA and CA, with more being added every day.

      https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer...w.kdRHyoyqygI8

      Oak Hill near San Jose


      Capitol Hill in Seattle


      Queen Anne in Seattle


      Redwood City (a hiding-in-plain-sight site)


      SanDiego


      Long Lines building in DTLA

    17. Member Deltac's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 05:26 PM #16
      Awesome photos as usual

      Very interesting trip for sure, can anyone drive up to those antennas? It's a very interesting landscape to say the least.

      "Non è baciare il muro che mi preoccupa. E' farci l'amore che mi spaventa un pò" M. Alboreto

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    18. I’ll never get laid because I’m a nerd ChillOutPossum's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 06:26 PM #17
      Microwave is cool. Our internet here in Ohio comes through 5 ghz microwave, since there's no cable, fiber or DSL in my rural area.

      Didn't realize it was used so early on.

      These AT&T stations were probably 30-40 miles apart I'm guessing, since 40 miles is about the limit of microwave (line of sight, limited by curvature of earth).

      So considering that, that's a lot of heavy-duty stations to build!!! Especially in such remote areas.

    19. Member VRhooptie's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 06:31 PM #18
      Those are some awesome pics
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      03-12-2015 06:38 PM #19
      Awesome photos. Thanks for sharing!
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    21. Member simple's Avatar
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      03-12-2015 06:41 PM #20
      Very cool and great photos as usual.

      I grew up right down the road from a long-line station in Tallman, NY just outside NYC. Never got to climb it and didn't know anyone who did because the fence was pretty well protected.
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      03-12-2015 06:46 PM #21
      Quote Originally Posted by mikegilbert View Post

      Long Lines building in DTLA
      Had no idea! I can look down on it from my office . That's my building's loading dock on the right in your photo.

      Awesome pics!
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      03-12-2015 06:53 PM #22
      your pictures have such a unique quality to them. What are you shooting with that is special or is this processing? Fascinating look to the images
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      03-12-2015 06:56 PM #23
      Quote Originally Posted by mikegilbert View Post

      Oak Hill near San Jose

      Wow....I've lived here my whole life and pass this site every day to and from work. I never had any idea what it really was. It isn't just near San Jose, but in the heart of it. They have condos and townhomes all around that tower now. I believe it is called Communications Hill. Thank you for sharing! Great post and amazing pictures!
      Last edited by GTIolot; 03-12-2015 at 07:02 PM.
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      03-12-2015 07:17 PM #24
      Awesome! Thanks for sharing.

      These are mostly gone around here.
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      03-12-2015 07:35 PM #25
      Awesome.

      I've always wanted to drive out to death valley in the middle of July/August when it's 120+ degrees (ideally 130+, but it doesn't hit 130 very often). However, most people say I'm crazy and won't go with me, boo hoo.

      I really need to do it this year.
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