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Tip # 35: Scorpions, Ticks, and Bears — Oh, My!

You should know that I have been camping in Oregon since I was an infant. After relocating to California, it took some time to adjust to “bear camping” and the terrible inconvenience of using “bear boxes” and certainly “bear bags.” I mean, there just aren’t any bears in Oregon–or so I like to think. In fact, after being asked to sign a liability waver and an oath declaring that I have not left one stick of chewing gum in my glovebox at Castle Crags, and being advised to remove my children’s car seats from the car overnight in Yosemite (good luck if you’re in a tent), and hiking with jingle bells on my boot laces in the Beartooth Wilderness, I’ve often felt that leaving the bears behind is one of the best parts of camping in Oregon.

So, seeing all the bear warnings on the Newberry National Volcanic Monument web pages as I recently blogged had me scratching my head. Bears? In Oregon? I’m the third (and possibly fourth) generation in my family to camp in the area and I can’t remember ever hearing anyone worry about bears in the campgrounds. Clearly these pages were written by California transplants, I chuckled.

Then Tim reminded me of our adventure near the Idaho border, when we’d left humankind behind at the annual rattlesnake (and bear) feed and festival, then rambled 4 miles down a one-lane rock road overhanging a the deepest river gorge in North America, and for some reason we decided to whip out the camp stove and cook up some beef stroganoff for lunch (don’t worry, we learned this lesson before we had children, and we did make it out of there with all of our noodles intact). “Oh, yeah, that was in Oregon.”

And, he reminded me, there was the bear cub we saw once while rafting the Grande Ronde, where we drifted reluctantly toward the next bend wondering if we would happen upon his mother, too.

And, he reminded me, there was also the bear that had begun feasting on my uncle’s freshly killed deer during a hunting trip a few years ago, not too many miles from my favorite campground. Yes, in Oregon. “Right,” I sighed.

If that weren’t enough, a friend and life-long Californian just told me of how his uncle in Florence, Oregon (where we just spent 3 glorious days–stay tuned) has been at odds with a visiting bear doing damage to his patio birdfeeders at night. “On the coast?!” I exclaimed, sure his sense of Oregon geography and fauna was completely amiss. The answer was an absolute, “Yes,” and he and his family are looking forward to visiting said uncle, and aunt, and bear next month. In Florence. Oregon.

Okay, I humbly accept and acknowledge that there are bears in Oregon, though they fortunately do not frequent the more established campgrounds as they do in many parts of California. I’ve never used a bear box in Oregon. I’ve never listened to a bear raiding the campground dumpsters as I shuddered in my sleeping bag while camping in Oregon. When it comes to rattlesnakes, however, I’ve had no problem accepting their presence in Oregon. And even scorpions can be found there, which comes as a surprise to most people who imagine Oregon as the lush, green haven of rivers and trees they see along its more populous corridor, yet I’ve accepted this bit of reality for some time.

With regards to our recent camping trip at a remote “fisherman’s campground” on the banks of the Deschutes River, I knew that there would be a chance–though remote–of seeing a rattlesnake and even possibly a scorpion. Having a 2-year-old and 4-year-old in camp, I was a little concerned by this prospect, not to mention by the swift river that would be flowing past our camp. I admit, it isn’t the first campground I would choose for my kids at these ages. Yet my husband’s family, having camped at this same campground for around 20 years, assured me that in all this time they’ve never seen a rattlesnake (well, just a couple, but not in an actual campsite) and certainly no scorpions. More of a concern, I was advised, would be the poison oak.

Within 30 minutes of our arrival, my 6-year-old nephew unearthed a small scorpion about 20 feet from where we would pitch our tent. Being from Arizona, he knew exactly what it was. Having just seen the latest Indiana Jones movie, he also knew that the smaller the scorpion, the more dangerous it might be, so he alerted his parents right away. Tim noted several small oval holes in the ground where he’d found it (not far behind Angelina in the picture above) that suggested this scorpion had friends, but thankfully we didn’t see any. What were the chances we’d see a scorpion at all in this campground? Based on years of Rivoli family experience, the odds were very slim. However, I think it’s worth noting that the likelihood of certain wildlife and insect encounters actually increases when you have small children in camp. For example, few of the adults would have taken toy trucks and a stick to the edge of the campsite and started digging. Few adults would also chase a ball into a hedge of poison oak, or poke a stick into a swarming hill of ants or a wasp’s nest to see what would happen.

Similarly, no one had ever had a problem with ticks while camping here in the past. Having both grown up in the Pacific Northwest, neither Tim nor I had never encountered any ticks until we moved to northern California. As we drove westward, toward greener Oregon, we even commented on how nice it is that you don’t have to worry about ticks when you take your kids hiking in Oregon. However, after meeting up several hours later in the Willamette Valley, my siblings-in-law issued a tick advisory–two had already been found among our party. As we dipped Angelina into the bathtub, much to our horror, we discovered a fat tick lodged in the top of her blond little head. At 4 years old, fortunately, she was able to sit quite still while we successfully removed it with tweezers. Again, it was the littler, more adventuresome brush-high people among us who were most likely to happen upon ticks.

Though few among us actually want to see a scorpion, bear, snake, or tick–or other thrilling wildlife–on our outings with the kids, it is good to keep in mind that there is a slim chance it might happen (even in Oregon). That’s why it’s important to begin teaching small children the importance of respecting wildlife and insects early on in life–you might be surprised how much their eager little minds can absorb even at 2 years old. As in the case of the unlikely scorpion, a little knowledge went a long way toward keeping a six-year-old safe.

Here are some tips on how to handle yourself in some wild situations:

How to conduct yourself in bear country
What to do if you see a bear in Yosemite
How to store food in Yosemite
What to do if you find a tick on your child
How to handle snake bites
How to treat a scorpion sting

Mind you, I don’t offer these stories or links to deter you from going camping or hiking with your children. As with taking small children anywhere, into the woods or across the oceans, some might argue that the risks outweigh the benefits, but I disagree. Nature is the real world, and to avoid it is to avoid living a real and authentic life. What better gift can you give your children than an appreciation for nature? Remember, life is short and summer’s even shorter. So pack your picnic and pull on your boots.

Wishing you wild, wonderful, and safe journeys out there,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby
The Ultimate Guide for Planning Trips with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children

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