Sunday, May 05, 2013

No See Um, WHAT?!

It's been a beautiful Sunday here in Utah. A perfect day for an afternoon drive. After an early dinner, we packed all of us into our min-van and headed out on our drive to find someplace we hadn't been before. Our kids have always been pretty good travelers in the car and drives are typically peaceful and a nice time for us all to enjoy beautiful scenery and a bit of peace from our every day bothers. In the car is my wife, Amy, myself (of course), and our 5 kids: Henry (7), Ella (5), Grace (3), Sam (2 this month), and George (3 mo.). At the moment, we're staying in Daybreak, a planned community in South Jordan, Utah (Southwestern end of the Salt Lake Valley). We decided to drive Northwest toward a town called, Magna. If that's where we had stopped, I wouldn't be writing this.

Magna is basically the far northwest community in the Salt Lake valley and borders the area near the airport - so it is right along I-80 west. We drove through town, explored their small, old downtown, and eventually came to where we had to take a left or a right onto the 21st South Freeway. This part of our journey on the map is the yellow line. If you go right, you head back into the city and into South Salt Lake City. If you go left, it can take you out to I-80 right next to where the Southern most part of the Great Salt Lake butts against the mountain range of the Western edge of the Salt Lake Valley. If you go West from there, you hit one more valley/town of reasonable quality, and then it's all salt/desert/salt flats. We went left toward the Great Salt Lake.

On the map, we are now on the green line.

We drove over I-80 and found ourselves at the Saltair, and old event venue that has a lot of history in Utah. It sits on the edge of the lake and I highly recommend looking up info on it. It's pretty interesting. Anyway, the road there ended in a T and we decided to take a left out to the Salt Lake Marina. We could see a bunch of sailboats out on the lake and the evening was beautiful. I though maybe we could wander around and see the beauty near the lake. But, we hadn't brought any money and the marina is a state park, so we had to turn around. We traveled back to Saltair and made our decision about where to go next...

This is the red section on the map.

I grew up along the migratory paths of birds in Nebraska and learned to love birds and nature. Of course, I have a degree in environmental science as well, so I love the whole nature thing. Best thing is, the Great Salt Lake is one of the most important bird habitats in the United States and on any given spring/summer/fall day, you can see dozens of different bird species. It really is amazing. And with the weather being so perfect, I was itching to get out of the car and enjoy a little nature. I wanted to teach my kids all about the birds. So, instead of turning back down the road we came on, I drove straight, along the old Lincoln Highway, which follows along the side of I-80 (like a frontage road). No one was on the road and I knew we'd find a place to get out and walk around. And soon we did.

It was perfect. There was a little parking lot, a trail to walk on, and an Audobon sign telling of how globally important the area was. Sweet! AND, right past the parking lot were a set of cool nature information signs that I was sure would have lots of great information about the area. It really couldn't have been more perfect.

I popped out of the car, opened doors (love automatic doors on min-vans), and started helping kids out of the van. However, I began to wonder about bugs, since when I opened the door, a few mosquito looking buts flew in and I could see a few as well, flying around. I didn't want my family all bitten up and we didn't have spray. But, it didn't seem to bad, so we decided to just be out a few minutes.

As soon as I got little Sam's shoes on and got him out of the van, I was suddenly very aware of my skin crawling, like it was tingling, and then itching. I looked on myself and didn't really seen anything, so I was confused. But I definitely felt it all over and I began to scratch and wipe the feeling all over my head, face, and neck. Then, as I looked up, I looked at Sam and saw him doing the same. As I looked closer at him, I suddenly saw the reason...little black moving dots all over him. Against his fair skin and blondish hair, you could see them. Tiny little bugs all over.

The two oldest kids had run out to the signs, but were now standing still and were figuring out the problem as well. I quickly told them all to run back and get in the car! I worked fast to get Sam in the car and Amy put Grace back in. Once we finally get everyone back in the car, by this time, we are all panicking because the bugs are all over us. they are on our clothes, on the seats, in our hair, and who knows where else! Henry is totally losing it and has his nose and mouth covered. Ella is panicking in the back with "itchies" all over her. I did a quick turnaround with the van, and started driving back down the highway as a brisk pace - with windows rolled down to let the wind blow in and hopefully the bugs out.

This is the blue section on the map.

Ella was bawling in the back and wanted the windows open to help. Grace cried everytime the windows opened. Sam looked at everyone else like they were crazy, and for once, wasn't the screaming one in the group - he looked a bit like, "hey, um, why is everyone else screaming? Isn't that MY job?!". He calmly just put his hands on his ears and at the same time kept itching and swatting away any left over bugs.

We finally got to a road that crossed over I-80 and few miles down the road were away from the type of area that would have bugs - a brand new target parking lot.

We all piled out of the van and immediately swiped away. We looked like we had ants in our pants and lice in our hair all at once. We kept checking everyone's scalps and killing the ones still moving around in there. We looked down shirts, shook out our pant legs, and all did a few really big shudders. Amy and I were laughing some because it was all a little absurd, but Ella wasn't so sure laughing was the right thing for us to do. It was one of those moments where you know you probably shouldn't laugh, but you couldn't help it.

It took 5-10 minutes before everyone was calm enough and willing to get back in the car. We had, of course, checked the inside of the car. George had been sitting in his covered car seat (thank heavens for that cover) and was unaffected by the bugs, other than being woken up by the commotion of it all.

Of course, Grace then had to use the bathroom - as did Ella. So Amy walked them into the store to use the bathroom while the boys stayed in the van. And that is when George decided he was done waiting for food and attention. He screamed, Henry looked for his pacifier, and I shook my head at how our perfect drive had taken a "Griswold family vacation" type of turn.

While the girls were inside, I used my phone to look up what the insects were. They are called, No See Ums. Yeah, that's pretty fitting. We certainly didn't "see um" until too late. Here is what they look like...

Ceratopogonidae, or biting midges
From Wikipedia: The bite of midges in the genus Culicoides causes an allergic response in equines known as sweet itch. In humans, their bites can cause intensely itchy, red welts that can persist for more than a week. The discomfort arises from a localized allergic reaction to the proteins in their saliva, which can be somewhat alleviated by topical antihistamines.

They are small. Here is how small:

Yeah, pretty creepy. They are apparently related to black flies and in the same family as Mosquitoes.

Once we all got back in the car and on our way, we only had to stop once more because Henry decided he had to go and couldn't hold it either (thanks subway for letting us use your bathroom without buying anything). Oh, and Sam finally got this chance to scream when he saw me leave the car and go into the Subway with Henry. Fitting.

Back at home, the kids were pretty great about it. Henry and Ella had gotten worst of it since they had gone the furthest from the car. I was unaffected physically because, like with mosquitoes, I am immune to their bites (see my earlier blog post on this). Henry and Ella both had showers when they got home - mostly to get the smooshed blood and bugs from their hair.

Everyone's back to their peaceful, quite selves - asleep, healthy, and all well....except probably a bit mentally traumatized for life.

And that's how a nice drive to Magna became a story worth remembering and writing.

Here is the map of our trip: