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The Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest states of Washington and Oregon are well known as the wet green pocket in America’s upper-left corner, similar in climate, topography and environmental politics, but quite different in their attitudes toward growth. Washington’s sprawling development, bustling military bases and notorious freeway gridlock contrast dramatically with Oregon’s low-scaled design and easy-going lifestyle, thanks in no small measure to the latter’s stringent land-use laws and “urban-growth boundaries” around its larger cities.

Cooler and wetter than California to the south, both states are split by the great north–south spine of the Cascade Mountains, where regular rainfall and a moist climate create a verdant landscape thick with woodlands. In the adjoining Olympic Mountains of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula the woods have even become small rainforests. Both Seattle and Portland lie roughly fifty miles from the Pacific Ocean along the I-5 freeway. Seattle, the commercial and cultural capital of the Northwest, is a major port known for its high-tech and aerospace industries, and location along the beautiful islands of the Puget Sound. Portland offers much historic appeal for its old-time terracotta architecture and ten stately bridges crossing the scenic Willamette River, along with its nationally regarded culture of bicycling.

Beyond the Cascades, the land to the east is far drier, peppered with desert and scrubland, as well as bleak stretches of lava beds and cinder cones. Of the towns, only Spokane in Washington is of any appreciable size, though Oregon’s resort town of Bend has a location just east of the Cascades that makes it a useful base for exploring mountains, deserts, and especially the beautiful Columbia River Gorge to the north. Of great interest also is the scarred territory between Seattle and Portland around Mount St Helens, which erupted with devastating effect in 1980.

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