Chicken Strip in Death Valley National Park’s remote Saline Valley is a gravel airstrip within a short hike of the Saline hot springs grouping. RAF California Liaison Katerina Barilov was concerned that the closest weather currently available comes from Tonopah, NV, 82 nm away. In the interest of providing pilots accurate information to make better-informed decisions, Barilov applied for, and was awarded an RAF grant to install a Remote Solar-Powered APRS radio weather station at Chicken Strip. “This experimental weather station will not rely on cell phone, satellite, or wi-fi connectivity to transmit real-time dewpoint, wind velocity and direction, barometric pressure and temperature data via VHF radio to the internet,” Barilov said.

Barilov reports that the area’s extreme geology, with its 12,000-foot peaks to the west towering over the field elevation of 1,360 feet creates significant weather that can be severe. Extreme temperature fluctuations caused by daytime heat can stir up over 25-knot gusts. Having gotten approval from Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds, Barilov and RAF California Liaison Rick Lach will begin installation the first week of June with the assistance of the camp host. Allowing time for testing and permitting, Barilov expects the system to be permanently operational by the end of 2024. 

Three warm springs, fabled for their clothing-optional tradition, can be accessed by a half-mile walk from the airstrip within one of the largest essentially uninhabited valleys in the California desert. Capricious weather seasonally causes washouts across the runway and RAF and California pilot volunteers have routinely committed to grade and reclaim the airstrip, enduring the rough three-hour drive each way.

For more information on Chicken Strip, see the Airfield Guide.

Submitted on May 30, 2024.
By Carmine Mowbray

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