Washington (abbr.: WA or Wash.), state of the United States of America, bordered by Canada (British Columbia), Idaho, Oregon (border river: Columbia River) and the Pacific Ocean (partly: Strait Juan de Fuca, Straits of Georgia and Puget Sound), 176,617 km2, with 4.8 million inhabitants; capital: Olympia.
Extending from south to north along the Pacific Coast are the Willapa Hills (900 m) and the Olympic Mountains with rounded peaks (Mt. Olympus, 2415 m). The Cascade Range divides the state into an eastern and a western part. A large fault runs along the eastern edge of this plateau, which has created volcanoes that rise up to 1000 m above the Cascade Range. In total there are 57 peaks above the snow line (which is 2300 m here). The main peaks are Mt. Rainier (4,392 m, Washington’s highest point) in the Mt. Rainier National Park, Liberty Cap (4301 m) and Point Success (4313 m). The volcano Mt. St. Helens (2,940 m), which had been inactive since 1857, had a powerful eruption in 1980. The western slope of the Cascade Range is heavily forested. The eastern slope consists of unforested radial ridges, descending to the Columbia Basin. Between two of these ridges, the Sawtooth Ridge and the Chelan Range, stretches the narrow, 90 km long and 440 m deep Chelan Lake. The eastern part of Washington is occupied by the Columbia Basin, a vast lava plateau. To the north lies the unforested Okanogan Mountains (1900 m), to the southeast are the forested Blue Mountains with peaks to almost 2000 m. Washington’s main river is the Columbia River. The tributaries are deeply cut into the lava plateau; canyons have formed in many places. Major lakes in the state include Lake Chelan and the reservoirs behind dams in the Columbia River, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake (Grand Coulee Dam) and Banks Lake (Dry Falls Dam). The western part of Washington has a temperate maritime climate with a precipitation maximum in winter. Wynoocke, at the base of Mt. Olympus, with about 3600 mm, has the highest average precipitation in the United States. The eastern part of the state has a continental steppe climate with a precipitation of 250 to 500 mm.
The average population density is 26 inhabitants. per km2. About 76% of the population lives in urban areas. The main cities are Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma. See top cities in Washington.
Although the state’s economy has traditionally been based on agriculture, forestry, mining and fishing, industry has boomed since World War II and has been the largest employer since the late 1950s. The main arable products are grains; also fruit (main apple producer in the United States), asparagus, potatoes, hops, peas, sugar beets. Livestock includes dairy cows and other cattle, sheep and pigs. Washington is one of the leading producers of lumber and wood pulp in the United States. Fishing and related industry (canning, freezing, etc.) has traditionally been an important element of the state’s economy: salmon and halibut catching and canned salmon production. The main mining product is coal; furthermore natural gas, sand, gravel, zinc, cement, lead and uranium ore. The industry is mainly concentrated in the west. The main industries are manufacturing of aircraft and spacecraft (Boeing), timber and wood products, food, machinery and chemical products; other important sectors are shipbuilding, printing and publishing. Washington has the greatest potential for hydroelectric power in the United States. The abundance of hydroelectric power has enabled the development of two major manufacturing industries: aluminum and plutonium (by the Atomic Energy Commission) are produced here. The state owns about 20% of the total hydropower potential of the United States and ranks first in installed hydroelectric capacity.
There are three major national parks in the state: Olympic National Park in the northwest (approx. 4000 km2) and North Cascades National Park (approx. 2000 km2). Southeast of Seattle is the Mount Reinier National Park (approx. 1000 km2). Seattle is also a major tourist attraction. Also, sites reminiscent of the aboriginal and pioneer days include Whitman Mission National Historic Site at Walla Walla, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, San Juan Island National Historical Park, and the Makah Cultural and Research Center on the Olympic Peninsula.
Already in the 16th century Spanish and English explorers explored the northwest coast, but a real discovery was not made until in 1792 Captain Robert Gray sailed the coast with the ship ‘Columbia’ and named the great river he found after his ship. The Americans based their claims to the area on Gray’s discoveries. From 1804 to 1806 the Americans Lewis and Clark explored the interior. Colonization by whites did not come until 1836 when missionary Marcus Whitman settled among the Indians in Walla Walla. Shortly thereafter, the great migration to the Oregon Territory, to which Washington belonged at the time, began. In 1846 agreement was reached with Great Britain on the definitive boundary along the 46th parallel. Separate organization of the Washington Territory took place in 1853. The Indians were subdued in the War of 1855–1856. Then the area flourished. In 1889 Washington was admitted to the Union as the (42nd) state.
Washington National Parks
Mount Rainier National Park
This park was established in 1899 and is located in the Cascade Range. The landscape is controlled by the Mount Rainier volcano. The top of Mount Rainier is covered in snow and there are twenty-seven glaciers. When it’s warm, a beautiful spectacle of snow, ice and rock can be seen falling down. On the walls of the volcano, coniferous trees grow to a height of 1.5 kilometers. Camping is possible on the specially landscaped areas in the park, but hotels can be found in Longmire.
North Cascades National Park
This national park was created in 1968 and consists of two parts: the North Unit and the South Unit. The park is not accessible for cars so you will have to travel further into the park on foot or on horseback.
It was created to preserve one of the largest mountain ranges in North America, the Cascade Range. The Cascade Range consists mainly of volcanic cones covered with snowfields and glaciers. The park is an ideal area for rock climbers, as there are more than 300 glaciers and many canyons. You can spend the night in the small towns that surround the North Cascades National Park.
Olympic National Park
An area of 80 kilometers along the coast of the Pacific Ocean is supposed to represent the Olympic National Park and it looks beautiful too. Rugged mountains, alpine meadows, glaciers, lakes, streams and forests of conifers are some examples of the beautiful nature in the park.
It also includes part of the Olympic Mountains and in the western part of the park (on the other side of the Olympic Mountains) there are rainforests, because there is 3600 mm of rainfall annually. This makes this national park one of the wettest areas in the entire United States. The summers are warm and beautiful and the autumn and winter are a bit on the cool side with many fog banks in the autumn. You can spend the night at the campsites in the park or in the hotels and cottages in Sol Duc, Lake Crescent, La Push and Kalaloch.