IN a small island like Saipan, an individual with a pair of itchy feet must have to double the effort and sharpen his or her to wanderlust senses to scout for new crannies to explore.
As a newcomer to Saipan last year, I was eager and thirsty to explore everything, turning deaf ears to the friendly advice of ‘taking things slowly because you will run out of places to go very soon.’
A buddy who volunteered to give me a tour of the northern part of the island a few months back drove me in his convertible past the abandoned La Fiesta Mall. Dusk was falling when we turned right and went up to the road in As Matuis. Tight-lipped, my guide would not say where we were going but just drove on and up the paved winding roads, crushing several land crabs on the way.
After several more twists and turns in the road, we came to a stop on top of a hill. I stayed in the car for a few minutes, observing the surroundings and enjoying the silence of nature disrupted only by the chirping of crickets. Suddenly, I saw the structure – an imposing tower standing tall and proud in the deepening darkness. It felt eerie and I half-expected a soldier from the World War 11 to emerge from the bushes.
My companion then told me that the radar tower is the former Pacific Barrier Radar (PACBAR 111) Facility which was originally installed on the Space Tracking ship USNS General H.H. Arnold.
Information from the internet told me that the radar was constructed to provide coverage for space surveillance for a blind area between two other radar stations — the PACBAR I (ALTAIR) at Kwajalein, and PACBAR II (GPS-10) located in the Philippine Islands. It was designed to detect and track foreign missile launches.
We did not stay long in the area but I vowed to come back. And I did, a few weeks ago but this time, in broad daylight.
It feels exhilarating to drive up during the day and see everything clearly — the scenic view below, and finally the radar tower. Gone was the eerie feeling I felt when I went up the first time. In daylight, the tower was just an old structure that has fallen prey to decay and rust from abandonment, but it is one place that carries part of the island’s rich history. Try visiting the place one time, and if you’re daring, do it at twilight.