People began living in what’s now Washington at least 10,000 years ago. They could have come by way of a land bridge that became exposed when water levels fell during the last Ice Age, connecting North America to Asia. Thousands of years later, many Native American tribes including the Yakima, Chinook, Nez Perce, and Puget Sound Salish lived on the land.
European explorers reached the area by sea in the 1700s, but they spent only a little time ashore before returning to their ships. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the first Americans sent on an expedition to explore the West, arrived here in 1805—but they soon returned back east. For part of the early 19th century, the British and Americans shared ownership of the region. The two nations signed a treaty that divided the land in 1846. America’s Oregon Territory—which included the land that would become Washington—was established. The British took control over what’s now Canada to the north. The state of Washington was created in 1889.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
Washington is named in honor of President George Washington.
It’s nicknamed the Evergreen State because of its many forests, which cover over half the state.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
Washington is in the northwest corner of the contiguous United States (which excludes Alaska and Hawaii). It’s bordered by British Columbia, Canada, in the north; Idaho in the east; Oregon in the south (the Columbia River forms most of the border with this state); and the Pacific Ocean in the west.
The land can be divided into six geographic regions. The Olympic Mountains stand in Washington’s northwest corner, which is bordered by the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the north and the Pacific Ocean in the west. This wild, wet area contains dense rain forests. Most of this region is within Olympic National Park—and experts think parts of the park still haven’t been explored.
The Coast Range area is in Washington’s southwest corner, and it includes forested hills and beaches along the coastline.
East of the Coast Range is the Puget Sound Lowlands with river valleys, harbors, and the state’s major cities. The area has millions of low, flattened hills here called mima mounds—scientists still aren’t sure how these mysterious mounds were formed but theories range from gophers to earthquakes.
Further east you’ll find the towering Cascade Mountains, which include Mt. Rainier. At 14,410 feet, this is fifth highest point in the contiguous United States. Mount St. Helens is also located here. This volcano had a massive eruption in 1980—the biggest the lower 48 states had seen since 1917.
The Columbia Plateau spreads across the south-central portion of the state. It’s part of the world’s biggest lava plateau and includes steep, dry canyons called coulees and, patches of dry lava called scablands. The Blue Mountains rise in the state’s southeast corner. Also in the southeast are the Palouse Hills, which are covered in loess—windblown sediment made of silt and clay.
A portion of the Rocky Mountains sits the northeast portion of the state. The Columbia Mountains are also part of this region.
Look for mammals such as bighorn sheep, gray wolves, and Olympic marmots. Birdwatchers may see osprey, bald eagles, goldfinches (the state bird), plus water birds like albatrosses and puffins. Pacific giant salamanders and Pacific chorus frogs are among Washington’s amphibians. The state’s reptiles include sharp-tailed snakes and pygmy short-horned lizards.
Washington’s state tree is the western hemlock, but you’re also likely to see Douglas firs, Rocky Mountain maples, and Ponderosa pines here. Common flowers include wooly sunflowers, tiger lilies, and coast rhododendrons (the state flower).
With half the state covered in forests, it’s no surprise that Washington is one of the country’s biggest lumber and plywood producers. This state is also known for mining valuable metals such as gold, lead, and aluminum.
—Washington produces more sweet cherries, apples, pears, and red raspberries than any other state. It’s also the birthplace of Rainier cherries, a pink-and-gold variety that’s known for being super sweet.
—Famous Washingtonians include artist Chuck Close, cartoonist Gary Larson, musician Jimi Hendrix, singer Bing Crosby, and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
—The 605-foot-tall Seattle Space Needle looks like it has a flying saucer on top.
—Washington is the only state to be named after a president.