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

  1. jamie says:

    Ugh. You know the worst part about coming into contact with creepy crawlies on trips? Falling asleep after you’ve seen them.

    We’re just back from Andalucia. Know what they have there?

    Really. Big. Spiders.

    At least I was sleeping in a bed though…

  2. Buddy Rooster says:

    What did you do about the car seats at Yosemite? Did you leave them in your car or take them out? We're heading there in a few weeks and I've been busily devouring your blog for ideas and travel tips.
    All the best,
    Erin

  3. Anonymous says:

    Did you really say there are no bears in Oregon? Wow! Im shocked to hear you say that since you say you are from Oregon and have done a lot of camping here! My family is one of the pioneers of Oregon, I belong to the Siuslaw Indian tribe and myself and my ancestors were born and raised in Florence Oregon. I have lived my entire life here from the coast, to portland and now central Oregon. THERE ARE TONS OF BLACK BEARS EVERYWHERE IN OREGON!!! Especially on the coast where the forest is very dense. When i was about 5 years old we had 2 bears getting into garbages in the trailer park my father lived at in Florence that had to be trapped. My father and I had a cub walk right up to us on our front porch and smelled our hands, then about 4 years later we had a dog who "treed" a black bear a half a block from our house who had to be sedated and captured. At my mothers house, which is right on the beach in florence we had a problem with a nuisance bear tearing up our garbage cans, my step father sadly had to shoot the bear because it attempted to attack our dog and they were concerned for my safety. They ate the bear so it was not a wasted kill. I had a bear once run in front of my car and just last summer here in central Oregon one of our local campgrounds had an issue for almost 3 weeks with 2 black bears invading campsites and tearing things up and they had to evacuate the campground! I could go on all day with stories about bears here in Oregon, and the ones i have mentioned (except the campground one) are just MY bear experiences. So for you to say there are no bears in Oregon is just a silly and uneducated thing to say. Maybe some more research should be done before posting blogs like this that people that have no idea are reading to educate themselves you are giving them false information!

  4. Shelly Rivoli says:

    Anonymous – Thanks for your lengthy comment and fun stories! If you had read paragraphs #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, and especially the first sentence of paragraph #7, you may have caught that "…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." I guess you missed the part about me watching a bear cub on the Grande Ronde, etc. The, uh, gist of the blog post was in part to clarify that there ARE bears in Oregon, though you are less likely to have one open your car for a snack than you are in Yosemite. Thanks for "reading." ;-)

  5. Shelly Rivoli says:

    Buddy Rooster – See new post http://travelswithbaby.blogspot.com/2010/06/ask-shelly-what-to-do-with-car-seats-at.html re: car seats at Yosemite

  6. [...] & Pages below.   Related Posts & Pages: Ask Shelly: What to do with car seats at Yosemite? Scorpions, ticks, and bears, oh my! (How to get out into nature with your kids without getting in over your head) Quicklist for camping [...]

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