Visit Shoshone Lake in the heart of Yellowstone National Park in July and you're visiting bug central. There are mosquitoes, flies, gnats, horse flies and deer flies, and they're all interested in getting a piece of you.
A few years ago I thought I had discovered the perfect defense when I field-tested the insect repellent made by Burt's Bees. A concoction of eucalyptus, lemongrass and soybean oils, this 100 percent natural repellent fared well in my unscientific head-to-head competition with a DEET-based product during a trip down the South Arm of Yellowstone Lake.
Well, Burt let me down last week during four days on the lake, as everything else I tried, and I tried a lot.
My buddy brought along a DEET-infused lotion, but it too failed. While those mosquito coils that smolder and put off a supposedly bug-noxious smoke might have been somewhat effective, they really don't work in a breeze, and there are lots of breezes in Yellowstone.
I thought I had an ace-in-the-hole with a BUZZ OFF ball cap and pair of socks from Ex Officio. In fact, the first night out they seemed to be key to maintaining some sanity in the clouds of mosquitoes. Sadly, the little blood suckers were simply toying with me, as after a few sniffs of both the cap and the socks they settled right down to a meal.
Fortunately, our second two nights were spent at a campsite dubbed Windy Point, and with good reason, as the prevailing winds off the lake were a bit much for the bugs. But not every campsite will be so fortuitously oriented, and I know I've got to solve the bug issue. Normally I find success by holding off any backcountry forays until after Labor Day, but that takes a big chunk out of the summer season, and with climate change under way, even that strategy won't last forever.
A backcountry ranger we ran into, Mike, said some campers were staying happy and bug-free by bringing screened gazeebos into the woods with them, and I'm thinking of experimenting with that in the future. It could easily be accomplished with canoe tripping, though a smaller mosquito net would be necessary for backpacking.
With a trek into Idaho's Sawtooth Range planned for next month, I'm open to bug repellent suggestions.