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Washington State, officially known as the State of Washington (not to be confused with Washington, D.C.), is the 42nd state of the United States. Located in the northwestern corner of the continental U.S. in a region known as the “Pacific Northwest,” it is bounded by Oregon to the south, Idaho to the east, the Canadian province of British Columbia to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Established in 1889 out of the Oregon Territory, as of 2020 it is home to 7.6 million people, making it the 13th most populous state overall while being 20th in land area.

In most media, Washington is often stereotyped as being a perpetually cloudy, rainy place populated by flannel-wearing hipsters and disaffected California expats drinking coffee in Seattle or hunting for Bigfoot (who is actually protected by state law, believe it or not, in the off chance it exists). In reality, the state covers a wide range of geography and climates, from oceans, forests, lakes, mountains, plains, dry steppe, and outright desert. So too are the people diverse, with significant minorities of Hispanics, East Asians, and Native Americans to name a few, all from a wide array of different backgrounds. The state (much like neighboring Oregon) is divided, both geographically and culturally, by the Cascade Mountain range, with the west being known for its prolific liberal politics while the eastern half is generally more conservative, which often creates enough friction for the latter to sometimes try to secede, so far with no success.

While Washington’s economy has historically relied on timber harvesting, resource extraction, and agriculture, these days it has also grown to be a technology hub with major corporations such as Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, Nintendo of America, and Boeing having their roots here, along with being a general gateway to and from much of the Pacific. Given its strategic location,note  it’s also home to a rather large number of military bases, including one of the country’s two nuclear submarine bases and a military relay station. With all this in mind, it should come as no surprise that Washington has left its mark on mainstream culture and the arts.

    A Brief History 
The area now known as Washington has been inhabited by Coast Salish and other tribes for tens of thousands of years, with fossilized evidence such as Kennewick Man suggesting human habitation for thousands of years before many of Earth’s oldest civilizations existed. Many of these tribes are still around, living in reservations across the state after years of fighting for recognition from the federal government, with some continuing to fight for it to this day.

European exploration of the area began in the late 1700s, with Spanish, Russian, and English explorers all variously surveying (and claiming) parts of the area until the territory, now called the Oregon Territory, fell under British control in 1790. They wasted no time setting up fur trading posts. Famously, Lewis and Clark explored the area as part of their 1804-1806 expedition. The territory would soon become a condominium between British Canada and the U.S., but territory disputes continued until the 1846 Oregon Treaty set the boundary along the 49th parallel, as well as around some islands so that Britain could keep Victoria.note  Settlers arrived into the area via the Oregon Trail, with some settling in present-day Washington. The Washington Territory was granted statehood in 1889.

The state can be roughly divided up into five distinct regions:

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    Olympic Peninsula and Coast 
The furthest west region of the state, covering the outer (non-Puget Sound) Pacific Coast and most of the Olympic Peninsula. Geographically, it is dominated by the Olympic Mountains, which take up most of the peninsula, are virtually uninhabited, and protected by the sprawling Olympic National Park. Its tallest peak, Mt. Olympus, is the tallest non-Cascade mountain peak in the state at almost 8,000 feet. The western slopes are home to a rare example of a lush, virgin temperate rainforest, while the eastern slopes are drier due to the rain shadow. To the south are low-lying hills and valleys, northern extensions of the Oregon Coast Range, through which the Columbia River cuts to reach its mouth in the Pacific Ocean. Battered by winds and clouds coming off of the Pacific, this region is notoriously cold, wet, and rainy, with Forks (the setting of The Twilight Saga) averaging 120 inches (over three meters) of rain every year, and the Hoh Rainforest receiving a whopping 200 inches annually! Needless to say, the region is sparsely populated and rural, and the local economy relies on timber, fishing, agriculture, and tourism, especially during the summer months when the beaches are actually quite pleasant. The twin cities of Aberdeen and Hoquiam, as well as Port Angeles on the northern Olympic Coast, are the largest population centers, with other towns of note including the aforementioned Forks, Ocean Shores, Westport, Raymond, and Long Beach.

Aberdeen in particular has something of a “tough” streak, on account of its past as a salty port at the end of a railroad attracting all sorts of hooligans in its heyday; this is where infamous serial killer Billy Gohl did his dirty work. Since then, the town has cleaned up its image considerably, now billing itself as a gateway to the region’s mountains and beaches. It is also the hometown of two members of Nirvana, lead singer Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic, as well as AEW star Bryan Danielson, best known for his time in WWE as Daniel Bryan.

    Puget Sound/Western Lowlands 
Sandwiched between the Olympic and Cascade Mountains are the valleys surrounding Puget Sound, an inland ocean waterway linked to the greater Pacific Ocean through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and to a lesser extent the I-5 corridor south to the Oregon border on the Columbia River. Defined by low-lying river valleys draining off of the mountains on either side, it has a mostly moderate climate which is warm in the summer and cold and rainy during the winter. Unlike the mountains, snow is rare here but does blow in from time to time. It is also much drier than most people think, since the Olympics block most of the moisture coming off of the Pacific, causing “wet and rainy” Seattle to actually be drier than most other major American cities such as New York City, Miami, and Atlanta.

The region is far and away the most populous in the state, with most of the major cities being located here. Seattle is the largest by far, with a population in excess of 750,000 (making it the 18th largest in the country, with the 15th largest metro area when including the entire region). Seattle is the home base of Amazon and Starbucks, while nearby Redmond hosts Microsoft, Federal Way has Weyerhauser, North Bend has Nintendo of America, and Boeing’s manufacturing plant is in Everett (Boeing itself is headquartered in Chicago, however). Besides Seattle, other big cities in the area include Everett, Bellevue, Kent, and Tacoma. Seattle and Tacoma are among the largest commercial shipping ports in the U.S., while Everett boasts the Everett Naval Shipyard, part of the large amount of military infrastructure in the region which also includes Joint Base Lewis-McCord, the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Naval Air Station Whidbey, the Jim Creek transmitter station in the hills east of Everett, and Bangor Submarine Base in Hood Canal, one of two in the U.S. (the other is in Savannah, Georgia) and home to a sizable chunk of the country’s nuclear stockpile. The state capital, Olympia, is located at the southern end of Puget Sound and is home to The Evergreen State College. Bellingham to the north is the largest city between the Seattle Metro and the Canadian border.

To the south lies Vancouver, Washington (not to be confused with Vancouver, British Columbia, a short distance across the border to the north). It is the 4th largest city in the state, helps form the Portland-Vancouver Metro area, and for all intents and purposes is closer to Oregon culturally and economically than to the rest of the state. Lewis and Clark passed by the future city during their expedition, and it was named in honor of a historic fur-trading outpost, Fort Vancouver. A common joke/piece of advice to people moving to the area is to live and work in Vancouver and do all your shopping in Portland, since the former has no state income tax while the latter has no state sales tax.

Despite all the cities and suburbs, the region still manages to have some wide-open spaces, mostly family-run fruit, vegetable and dairy farms, forests, streams, as well as dozens of islands in Puget Sound and the Channel Islands further north, with the Sans Juan Islands in particular being a favorite getaway of Seattleites.

    The Cascade Mountains 
The chain of mountains splitting the state in half, the Cascades run from southern British Columbia in the north, down through Washington and Oregon and terminating near Lassen Peak in California. Jagged and treacherous, these volcanic peaks range from sparsely to literally uninhabited, although several major highways trek through them to connect the two sides of the state. Mt. Rainier, at 14,411 feet, is the state’s highest peak, and the highest Cascade peak in general. Rainier (also known by its original indigenous name, Tacoma), is also an active volcano, one which could pose a severe risk to the Seattle area should it erupt; a national park, the nation’s 5th oldest, surrounds its base. The mountain is huge, dominating its surroundings for over a hundred miles in all directions, and frequently appears in the backdrop of photos of Seattle and Tacoma. Its tough, rocky, and perpetually snow-and-ice covered character make it a popular training ground for those aspiring to summit Mt. Everest. Other high peaks, all volcanoes, include Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, Mt. Adams, and the infamous Mt. St. Helens, which violently erupted on May 18th, 1980, taking 57 lives, destroying many bridges and roads, and flinging volcanic ash as far away as Oklahoma.

While the interior of the mountains bear no large towns, the eastern foothills are home to vast, lucrative agricultural lands fueled by fertile volcanic soils and made arable though irrigation thanks to the many large dams on the Columbia River, which at 1,243 miles is one of the West Coast’s longest and largest rivers, originating in the Rocky Mountain Trench in British Columbia and draining an area the size of France. The river also cuts through the mountains (on account of predating them), creating a sheer valley called the Columbia River Gorge through which ocean-going vessels can pass through a series of locks to reach ports as far up as Lewiston, Idaho on the Snake River, making the river an important economic engine for the region. The dams, which divert water for irrigation and allow vessels to pass, also generate electricity; combined with the area’s numerous wind farms, this makes the region a clean energy production hub, with the cities here having some of the nation’s cheapest power.

Going back to the agricultural fields, the valleys of the Wenatchee and Yakima Rivers are where the bulk of the state’s famous apple production occurs. The region also hosts beef cattle ranches, vineyards, and beer hop farms. Yakima is the largest city of the region, with other important towns including Wenatchee and Ellensburg, which hosts the fast-growing Central Washington University and was originally tapped to be the state capital before burning down in an 1889 fire, which is why it got the school instead.

    Columbia Basin 
South and east of the Columbia River (and a little bit west of it as well in places) lies this broad, arid, mostly flat region which is only occasionally broken up by hills, buttes, pothole lakes, and streams, causing its topography to resemble the western Great Plains more than the standard depiction of Washington. In further parallels with the Great Plains, much of it is covered in crop fields and cattle ranches, with the few remaining wild areas consisting of grassy, sagebrush steppe. The southeastern part of the state also includes some of the Blue Mountains, which bleed in from Oregon and Idaho. In addition, several buttes, coulees and scablands are scattered across the region, all carved by the violent Missoula Floods during the last Ice Age which sent walls of water down them at speeds of up to 60 mph.

The region’s most infamous offspring is the Hanford Nuclear Site, one of the main sites of the Manhattan Project and the birthplace of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Decommissioned for years, the plant is now a Superfund Site that constantly threatens to leak radioactive waste into the Columbia River, impacting millions of people who live downstream. The nearby towns of Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco grew to service the plant and today are known as the “Tri-Cities”, which make up the largest metro in the area. Further north is the Gorge Amphitheater, a popular outdoor concert venue located in the middle of vast wilderness, while Pullman in the east hosts Washington State University, the biggest school in Eastern Washington and eternal rival of Seattle’s University of Washington (folks use the term “U-Dub” to refer to the latter and "Wazzu" or "WaSu" (pronounced “Wazoo”) to refer to the former).

    Okanogan Highlands 
Located north of the Columbia Basin and east of the Cascades (roughly east of the Okanogan River), this remote, sparsely-populated mountain wilderness consisting of the southwestern peripheries of the Selkirks and other Rocky Mountain subranges extends into the Idaho Panhandle and Northwestern Montana as well. The region is dominated by Spokane, the state’s second largest city and the center of a geographic and market area known as the "Inland Empire"note  or "Inland Northwest", with other major towns in the area including the Idaho Cities of Coeur d'Alene and Sandpoint. Spokane is also home to Gonzaga University, a Jesuit school which emerged as a major men's basketball power in the current century. Outside of Spokane, however, the region has few sizable towns, all located in secluded valleys tucked in between the mountains. Timber harvests, mining, and cattle ranching drive the economy in these areas. Because of the region’s remoteness, it is rather infamously home to a number of people trying to get away from the rest of civilization, including doomsday preppers, cultists, and a few Neo-Nazi groups. The nation's biggest dam, the Grand Coulee Dam, backs up Lake Roosevelt on the Columbia River in this area.

Works set or shot in Washington include: