Best Of The West 2012: Washington State, The Great Outdoors
Photography: © Mark Karrass/Corbis
Washington is like the corner office. Big. Stunning views. A certain undeniable cachet. Starbucks aside (birthed in Seattle in 1971), the state named after George is the consummate outdoor playground. With its natural beauty and a resident population known for their outdoor pursuits, it’s no wonder recreational equipment giant REI was founded here. Timberlands and beaches, rain forests and deserts, mountains and lowlands — no other state boasts such a diverse topography and climate. (Where else can you find glaciers and volcanoes?)
Indeed, it’s the extremes of the place that make it so appealing. Home to monoliths like Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and Microsoft (and, of course, its founder, WA-native Bill Gates), Washington is a study in coexisting contrasts. Business climate? In Forbes Top 10. Green-consciousness? In Forbes Top 5. More than half of the Evergreen State is covered with forest. It’s also rich in water: the Pacific Ocean, Puget Sound, and lots of rivers, including the famous Columbia. That water? It’s some of the country’s cleanest. And there’s also wine — nearly 700 wineries in some 12 official viticultural areas.
Such abundance drew dozens of Native tribes to live here long before the European encounter. There were salmon, oysters, and clams in the waters; berries and nuts in the forests; and plentiful cedar for canoes and longhouse shelters. Descendants of those historical Pacific Northwest tribes live today on the more than 20 Indian reservations dotting the state.
From apple orchards, salmon canneries, and breweries to gold mines, lumber mills, and railroads, Washington has contributed in no small part to the building of the West. Now, some 200 years after Lewis and Clark traversed it in 1805, the state boasts one of the world’s greatest cities and some of the country’s most pristine wilderness. The whole place considered, we agree with what Gov. Chris Gregoire said about folks lucky enough to live there: “We’re blessed by birth.”