The Activation Log is a new series that reports on my Parks on the Air (POTA) activations. These are write-ups that share additional content, thoughts, and images of portable operations that may or may not make it into a video.

(September 9, 2023) Our fall camping season kicks off with spending the weekend in a fairground. The Jefferson County, WI fairgrounds to be exact. Christine, the avid fiber artist and weaver that she is wanted to the full experience of the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. Since the festival offered cheap camping in the fairgrounds, we opted to stay on site and make it the base camp for our weekend adventures.

And an adventure it was. While we spent most of our time checking out the festival (I grew up on a farm and we raised sheep, so the livestock held my interest), Chris was big into the large trade show and market and hobnobbing with other artists. But we did take a bit of time to go off site and check out nearby Aztalan State Park.

Aztalan State Park

Located conveniently off of I-94 and just a few minutes drive from Lake Mills, Wisconsin, Aztalan State Park is Wisconsin’s premier archeological site and a national historic landmark. The park is the site of an ancient Mississippian settlement that flourished around 900 CE. While this is probably one of the more far flung of the Cahokian settlements, Yet due to its proximity to water transportation, the residents of Aztalan had long distance trading relationships with other settlements as far north as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the Gulf of Mexico.

The community was characterized by small houses built of clay, reeds, grass, and bark. Residences were arranged around a central plaza and ceremonial mounds. A wood stockade protected the village. The area was rich in resources and Aztalan grew and flourished.

But by 1200 – 1300 CE, the community complete vanished, with little to no record of where they went. It is best surmised that as the settlement grew, the demands on the local agriculture became too much and the community collapsed.

The settlement was ‘rediscovered’ in 1835 by Timothy Johnson. The mounds, being intact and a semblence of stockade still remaining, historian and naturalist Increase Lapham in 1850 urged the State to preserve the ruins.

Work on the preservation continued into the early 20th century with archealogical excavations and utimately the formation of Aztalan State Park in 1952 with the purchase of the 120 acre site.

Despite what we know, much of Aztalan is mystery and only gives us the smallest glimpse into the life of the region’s earliest inhabitants.

Activation Setup

Aztalan State Park is relatively small with two hiking trails that encompass the settlement and three day use areas. We set up in the middle day use area near a pavilion and vault toilets. The historical society maintains a little building that serves as a welcome and interpretive center, but it was closed today. There were a few trees that could be pressed into antenna supports, but I opted to use the self supported vertical antenna for the activation.

My vertical setup consists of a 213 inch collapsible whip that I adjust to 1/4 wavelength. I use the Wolf River Sporty Forty coil along with the whip if I want to drop to 40 meters. The base is a heavy flag stand and for a ground network I’m using a 36×84 inch piece of bright aluminum window screen material. The window screen is an effective ground network and I’ve had great results with it.

50 feet of RG-8X coax feeds the transceiver, a Yaesu FT-891, which I run on 50 watts phone and 20 watts digital. For the digital modes I use the Digirig interface linked to my inexpensive Windows laptop. Logging is done on Hamrs.

Weather was good, sunny skies with a high in the 70’s which is absolutely gorgeous September weather. The two of us commandeered a picnic table, Chris sitting on one end and me on the other while we worked the park.

On the Air

The airwaves were awash of Ohio stations. This was the weekend for the Ohio State Parks on the Air event, so just about every ham from the Buckeye state was outside, on the air, activating their parks. I figured I’d avoid the noise for a bit and see what 15 meters had to offer. Band conditions looked promising, so I set up shop up there.

In 15 minutes of calling CQ on 15 meters, I got two contacts. Maybe the band wasn’t as good as I expected, or maybe everyone was down lower chasing Ohio. None the less, I got the hint and dropped down to the 20 meter band. 20 meters is aways good for a pileup and I has a pretty good run going on the band, netting 51 contacts in 35 minutes. At that point I was ready to tone it down and save my voice, so I switched to data for a while.

People ask, why don’t more activators use FT4? It’s faster than FT8, and a bit quieter, so can churn out more contacts. Yes, it is certainly faster. Fast enough that you can’t let your eyes stray from the screen, otherwise you are missing QSOs. I decided to give the mode a try, just to see who’s out there. I got 8 contacts in rapid succession, but things dried up. You can certainly work them faster, but once you work everyone hanging out on the frequency, what’s next?’

So I moved down to FT8 on 20 meters. I grabbed 12 contacts in 25 minutes, which is an average pace for me. It’s more relaxing and Chris and I can carry on a conversation. But eventually that dried up, and our time was nearing an end at the park, so I decided to finish things off with a little 40 meter phone.

The 40 meter band was noisy that day, with a solid S5-S7 noise level. Instead of calling CQ on this band, I opted to hunt and pounce and grabbed seven stations, all but one of them Ohio Park to Park contacts. The last contact was a person at Potawatomie State Park in Wisconsin, which incidentally is near another of those far flung Cahokian settlements, but that may be another story.


A few hours in the park, including the time spent wandering around the mounds, netted me 80 contacts: 60 on phone and 20 on digital. The bands were in decent shape, despite 40 meters being a tad noisy. Some of that noise may be due to the location, though. Still, 20 and 15 meters were good, and I just wish I could pick up more contacts on 15. But as we head into fall and winter, the upper bands will really start to deliver again, so this afternoon was a nice taste of what to expect in the coming months.

Aztalan State Park, K-1437, Phone Contacts

Aztalan State Park, K-1437, Data Contacts

Now it’s back to the show and relax with a couple of cold ones.

How to get There

Aztalan State Park
N6200 Cty Hwy Q
Lake Mills, WI 53551
A vehicle admission sticker is required, walk or bike in for free.