I hiked Tikaboo twice in May (the 19th and 26th to be specific). On the 19th, I met a group of 4 guys who were coming down from the peak. They had a huge amount of gear including a serious tripod. One guy told me that they climbed Tikaboo every year for the last 5 years and shoot video "better than that Discovery Channel crap". I gave them my email adress but thus far no contact. BTW, these guys do the first half of the Tikaboo climb on ATVs, that is they reach the false summit on quads. You can see their ATV trail to the right of the hiking trail (while climbing up). This looks pretty dangerous to me, and yes, one guy said they rolled a quad once.
For the first hike, I brought the photo gear, and for the second hike I did some video. The visibility was fair, but not nearly as good as the hikes I did in the fall of 2001. They didn't light the runway on either night that I was on Tikaboo. On the night of the 19th, they did a live fire exercise on range 61 from I suspect an AC130. I could see the tracer fire quite easily with binoculars and could even see the round ricochet (sp) off the ground. There are a few structures on Range 61 that I don't believe were there in 2001. They are easily seen from Tikaboo and perhaps could be seen from the old range 61 repeater site.
On the morning of the 20th, a great video photo op appeared, but of course that was the day I had the still camera. A Janet plane was dispatched to "station 7" (using the callsign Talon). The prop job basically circled around me, doing a turn over Dog Bone Lake. The only other plane I saw land or take off at the base was a large white cargo plane. On one of the days I heard Scooby 13 and Scooby 23 cleared to take off towards the north, but never saw anything. [Like I said, visibility was poor.] Besides "station 7", there is also a "station 9". One of these may be basecamp, but without observers on both Tikaboo and near basecamp, this would be hard to verify.
I haven't scanned all the photos from Tikaboo, but I believe I am on to something that will help take photos under poor viewing conditions. I shot a roll of Macophot 820C using an orange filter with very good results, much better than stock black and white film. This need to be investigated a bit more, perhaps using a red or light red filter. Video from the peak with all that haze is another story. I think the camera would benefit from a red filter as well, though I didn't have one handy for experimentation. [Needless to say a B&W CCD camera would be needed, which is not a big deal since most camcorders can record from external video sources.] Using the camcorder lens under the hazy conditions was not very good, though setting the exposure manually helped.
Note that Tikaboo is a mess. The lumber that used to be a bench has been moved towards the side and piled in a manner that seems pretty useless to me. Two fire pits are now on the top of the hill, where I think there were none before (or perhaps just one). I packed out lots of trash from the peak, but much remains. A real pain to remove are the small cans (beans, etc) since they cut the trash bags. All this food debris has created a new eco system. I was constantly chasing flies off me. [DEET helped a bit on the second trip.] The flies were a food source for the lizards that kept me company. [Both the "collared" type that you often see at the power lines and some big fat black lizards.] Also present was at least one field mouse. The first night I left my sealed food on the ground and this mouse made it into one Clif bar. The second night I made sure all food (even if sealed) was placed in the backpack. I really fail to see why anyone needs to eat canned food on the peak, as if eating jerky and Clif bars would be a fate worse than Taco Bell. I removed many MRE wrappers, for which there is no excuse to leave them behind. [A bit off the point, but MREs seem to be too low in calories for the amount of space they take up in a backpack. Just my opinion, but you work up quite an appetite hicking Tikaboo. Of course the steak that Bill W. brought on one hike hit the spot just right. Also a bit off topic, but if anyone is wondering how much water to bring, I used 10.5 liters for each hike, i.e 7 1.5 liter bottles. Regarding weather conditions, it was 7 deg C at Groom Lake the first night I camped out, and was rather glad I brought a down jacket. The second trip the low was 17 deg C at the base, so two sweatshirts were enough.]
Other than the new building on Range 61, the base looks like it did on my previous hikes in the fall of 2001. There has been some modification to the runway which I would describe as a "ramp", though I really don't see why the area was added. There is also a new tank on the hill, but basically the differences are minor.
Getting back to basecamp, the VOR no longer puts out AEC, but rather the digit 0 (five dashes). This may not be a permanent change, since single digits are often associated with VOTs, not VORs. The new security cameras at basecamp have been removed. Perhaps a visit from the repo man. I noticed a truck with a large blade antenna on it (big enough so that it is probably in the civilian air band) parked behind the basecamp fire station.
I didn't visit the TTR, but noted that the missile and sign have been freshly painted. In fact, there was no writing on the sign at all. Now since this new paint job coincided with the new paint on Steve M's mailbox, the rumors that he is associated with the base have some ammunition. [Oh yeah, I removed a few shells from the top of Tikaboo as well.]
There appears to be something new at the front gate. If you are in the parking lot near the front gate at night, stand to the right of the tall cactus and took towards where the guard shack would be (if you could see it). Basically, look towards the low spot between the two major hills. There are two red lights off in the distance, though without good optics they will appear as one light. I suspect if someone hikes to the top of Hawkeye Hill, they may be able to see the source of this light. [The hike down from Tikaboo sapped my energy, else I would have done this hike and found the source.] I'm wondering if there is a generator where the lights are located, since the cameras don't seem to have solar cells anymore.
I believe the new airfield is now under construction at Cedar Pass. I saw a dirt scraper making multiple runs from somewhere near the "catcus" sign out towards a location to the north of the guard shack at Cedar Pass. Obviously they were stealing fill from one location to place at another location. This was being done on a Sunday, so I suspect this ain't a union job. There are quite a few scrapers, dozers, etc. near this location to the north of the guard shack.
I found a new "com" site by route 95 that looks similar to the Mt. Irish facility. It is located at N37 00 34.0 W116 47 29.0.
During my visit to the area, I did some fiddling with nightvision. I have managed to make a home brew device so that I can record video from my night vision. [Something I still need to tweak.] The first time I looked at the base with night vision, it was with Catman Joe and Sedilia Mike. We noticed many flashing blips over the base. There was always a question if these were planes over Groom Lake or is the night vision so good that you can see air traffic that flies along the route 95 corridor. Well, I camped out at a spot near route 95 and looked at the air space over Groom Lake. There were virtually no blips in the air, so I suspect that many of the flashing lights seen over Groom Lake with night vision are just planes near route 95. Using night vision from Tikaboo peak, you can see some flashing lights, but I suspect these are due to air traffic along route 6. One flashing light I watched moved very slowly, so I suspect that was a helicopter patrol. It was near Bald Mountain over the restricted area, which is a place I have seen choppers fly.