The North West

The Pacific North West or PNW is essentially the western United States region that borders the Pacific Ocean. It runs south to north from Oregon, Canada to British Columbia. Some accounts list parts of Montana, Idaho, southeastern Alaska and Northern California as parts of the Pacific Northwest as well. A large part of the region comprises rural forested land; nonetheless, there are a number of largely populated areas such as Tacoma and Seattle, Vancouver, Washington, Oregon, Portland and British Columbia.

For a very long time, the area was primarily occupied by different groups of Native Americans. The majority of these groups are said to have been involved in fishing, hunting and gathering. At present, visible artifacts still exist from the early inhabitants. Additionally, there are thousands of descendants who still practice the historic and cultural traditions of the Native American people.

Historical Sites

Below are a few of the notable historical sites scattered across the Pacific Northwest:

Mount Rainier, Washington
Standing at 14,411 feet and holding the title of the highest peak in the Cascades, the majestic Mount Rainier is a longstanding icon of the Northwest. Its forest-covered foothills and snow-capped summit contain a number of hiking trails that are both picturesque and demanding. There are also expansive meadows with enormous draping of flower-carpeted grounds and an enthralling conical peak that puts forth a formidable challenge for climbing aspirants. Commandingly soaring over the lively Puget Sound population, just a glance at this typically cloud-shrouded and indomitable mountain is enough to inspire awe in the majority of visitors.

  • Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake has gloriously still waters that are a reflection of surrounding mountain peaks. This makes for breathtaking panoramas and spectacular photographs. It is the only national park in Oregon and at 1943 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States as well. The area has provision for hiking and cross-country skiing; however, the majority of visitors seem to prefer cruising the 33-mile loop Rim Drive that winds around the edge of the lake.

  • Mount St. Helens, Washington

While not the most majestic of mountains where height is concerned, Mount St. Helens has developed a fiery infamy as a result of the catastrophic volcanic eruption that took place in May 1980. The volcano rocked the mountain along with the surrounding countryside. When at last the smoke cleared, Mount St. Helens had lost 1300 feet in height and on its north side it sported a fresh mile-wide crater. Since then, nature has restored a lot of life to the mountain; however, the destruction that resulted from the explosion is still compellingly evident even to this day.

  • Vancouver Island and Victoria, British Columbia

Laced with vibrant, often eccentric settlements, Vancouver Island is founded on fishing and logging. Scenic Victoria is the main city of the island and the capital of British Columbia. The adventurous individuals who have an interest in cycling will take great pleasure in the fact that there are more cycle routes in Victoria than any other city in Canada.

Natives of the Pacific North West comprise indigenous peoples of North America. At one point, the Pacific North West Coast contained the most densely populated neighborhoods of indigenous people that have ever been recorded. Included among them are North West Indians who are believed to have arrived in the Pacific Northwest over 16,000 years ago as descendants of the Siberian people. Since that time, there has been diversification of the group into hundreds of distinctive bands and nations.

Northwest Indians
This group lives along the Pacific Ocean, spreading from Washington State, coastal British Columbia and into Southern Alaska. They are renowned for their intricately hand-crafted totem poles. The social ranks and generations of a particular family are reflected in a totem pole placed in front of the home.

Rich natural resources like salmon and cedar are provided by the waters and land. Well-structured cultures emerged for populations that were relatively dense and inside the Pacific North West, a number of different nations emerged. Each of these nations now has their own distinct society, culture and history. Some of the regional cultures are very similar and certain elements are shared but others differ vastly. For a short period after colonization, a number of these groups regularly engaged in war against each other, gathering captives for slavery.

Included among the Northwest bands are the:

  • Tlingit

  • Haida

  • Nisga’a

  • Tsimshian

  • Haisla

  • Gitxsan

  • Wuikinuxv

  • Nuu-chah-nulth

  • Coast Salish

  • Willapa

  • Heiltsuk

  • Makah

  • Kwakwaka’wakw

  • Chinook

  • Nuxalk

  • Chimakum

  • Quileute

The art of the North West Coast is distinguished by the utilization of form-lines and the utilization of characteristic shapes that are known as ovoids, S forms and U forms. Prior to European contact, copper, stone and wood (typically Western red cedar) were the most commonly used media. However, since then precious metals, glass, canvas and paper have been used as well. When paint is utilized, red and black are the most common colors but yellow is often used too, especially among Kwakwaka’wakw artists. In Chilkat weaving, formline designs are applied to textiles. Traditionally, Tlingit, Tsimshian and Haida have used yellow cedar bark and wool to produce Chilkat woven regalia, which are important for ceremonial and civic events like potlatches.

The depicted patterns incorporate natural forms like human, bears, eagles, ravens and orcas. In addition, they include legendary creatures like sisiutl and thunderbirds as well as abstract forms consisting of the characteristic shapes of the Northwest Coast. The most recognized artifacts that use this style in their production are totem poles.

Artists from the NW Coast are also renowned for their production of characteristic “bentwood” or “bent-corner” boxes, canoes and masks. Additionally, designs from the Northwest Coast were used to decorate traditional household items like ladles, spoons, baskets, paddles and hats. Since European contact, the art style has been used increasingly in gallery-oriented varieties like paintings, sculptures and prints.

There were geographical barriers that had to be overcome before early explorers could gain access and ultimately settle in the PNW. In the south, east and north, mountain ranges loomed and the then uncharted waters of the intimidating Pacific Ocean was a seemingly insurmountable barrier in the far west.

The first settlers were made up of Native American groups that were moving south from Canada. In the 16th Century, explorers from the new United States, Spain, Russia and England looked toward the Northwest with interest. A major objective of the explorers was to find the “Northwest Passage” that leads to the Pacific Ocean; this search started with the Marco Polo journey. After his return from the well-known trip to the Orient, other individuals became fascinated with finding a fast sea route to the jewels and spices in China.

In 1943, the Treaty of Tordesillas gave Spain the first opportunity to become explorers of the region. In 1952, the Spaniards started their sail towards the Northwest on a quest for mineral wealth. Very little gold and silver were discovered and as such, Spain gave up its claim shortly after.

The Spanish navy was quite superior and controlled the Atlantic Ocean; therefore, the British were desperate to discover an alternate path to the Orient. Even though a number of British explorers looked for an eastern entry to the North West Passage, their attention turned to the Pacific Northwest when no route was discovered. Important discoveries were made along the Pacific Northwest coast by British explorers George Vancouver, John Meares and James Cook. This greatly assisted the British in gaining a stranglehold in the region.

During that time, a policy restricted Europeans from increasing their control over what would turn into the United States and as such, Russia had to settle for the role of a minor player in the exploration of the region. Trading posts and fur trapping were established by the Russians in present-day Alaska; this is where the Russian influence was strongest.

To fortify its hold on the region, three separate expeditions were sponsored by the United States. Charles Wilkes, William Clark, Meriwether Lewis and Robert Gray led expeditions which made way for the first United States settlements.

When Willamette Valley was first discovered by the original American fur traders and settlers, they were in awe of its natural beauty as well as how suitable it was for farming. To them it seemed as if the valley was made for the explicit purposes of grazing livestock, planting crop and providing pleasure for the eyes. However, the American pioneers were oblivious to the fact that the environment was consciously shaped by the Native American Indians through the use of fire.

The underbrush of the valley was minimized through yearly controlled, low-intensity burns that took place in the late summer. The burns also lessen the number of trees, smoothed the progress of hunting and gathering and transformed the place into the beauty that was so appreciated by the American settlers.

As soon as homes were set up by the American settlers and they established businesses, farms and ranches in the area, their initial impulse was to contain the fires. They saw the fires as a threatening wild force of nature; more specifically, as a force that threatened to destroy and devalue the property that were brought to and created on the land. They ultimately prevented the Native American from carrying out their yearly burns. The different perspectives on fire mirrored the varying attitudes toward the land and how it was supposed to be used.

Classic Climate in the Region
In the PNW, climate and ecology are influenced fundamentally by the interactions between the region’s mountainous terrain and atmospheric circulation patterns that vary from season to season.

Significant atmospheric circulation that occurs over the Pacific Ocean is the driving force behind seasonal variations in weather. Roughly two-thirds of the precipitation of the region takes place between October and March and a great deal of the precipitation is captured in the mountains. There is a decline in precipitation from late in the spring to early in the fall. The west has high pressure systems, typically keeping the North West rather dry.

There can be stark contrasts in the climate on the PNW. This is due to the mountains in the region; particularly in the Cascade mountain range.

East of the Cascades
The climate in this region is more continental and there are drier conditions and more sunshine. This is a sharp contrast to the western PNW’s maritime climate. On average, the yearly precipitation that takes place during the warmer half of the year is normally less than 20 inches. Some places get as little as seven inches. Daily and annual temperature ranges are also significantly greater in comparison to west of the Cascades.

West of the Cascades

In the low-lying valleys that are located west of the Cascades, the climate is typified by mild temperatures all throughout the year as well as dry summers and abundant winter rains. Average yearly precipitation in most of the locales west of the Cascades is over 30 inches. In the mountains, precipitation is a lot higher with average yearly accumulation normally exceeding 100 inches. Generally, the Cascades are among the snowiest locations across the globe.

Intensive studies were conducted and the findings indicate that because of changes in vegetation modeling, various scenarios are likely for forests in the PNW. There are dramatic differences in these scenarios and they range from forest expansion projections to forest dieback, which results from uncertainty relating to how projected precipitation and temperature changes will impact drought stress in trees or modify total yearly productivity otherwise.

There are other major uncertainties like amplified carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere boosting productivity or assisting trees in withstanding reduced moisture in the soil. The most likely scenario appears to be that growth could take place throughout the next few decades. However, at some point increases in temperature would overwhelm the trees’ capacity to utilize higher CO2 and higher precipitation.

In any case, climatic changes are likely to result in plant communities undergoing shifts in the composition of their species and/or density changes. Individualistic shifts in species range are expected as opposed to collections of associated species; essentially, species will not all move together. With climate change, there are expectations of extinction of local populations and perhaps even species. If species migration rates are outpaced by environmental shifts, there will be a loss of biological diversity. This will result in interaction with dynamics of the population to boost local population extinction rates.

Temperature and precipitation changes will continue to diminish snow pack. This will impact water quality and stream flow throughout the PNW. Warmer temperatures will bring about more winter precipitation being manifested as rain and not snow throughout most of the Pacific North West. This will especially be true in mid-elevation basins in which average temperatures in the winter are close to freezing.

Marine and Coastal Environments
Researchers have observed changes in ocean conditions like rising sea levels. Among the other vital climate-related factors to think about are surface and air temperatures, storminess and sea winter precipitation. These features influence landslides, coastal erosion, flooding and inundation, invasion of exotic species and estuarine water quality. The following conditions particularly heighten the risk associated with different coastal hazards such as:

  • Increased winter precipitation that enhances the risk of flooding and landslides of the coastal river

  • Increased sea level which amplifies the risk of coastal erosion

  • Southeasterly winter storms that increase the threat of erosion of the coast

  • The co-occurrence of the three previously mentioned conditions increases the probability of flooding events and coastal erosion that could be large and damaging.

In the Pacific North West, climatic changes could have a great effect on the coastal marine environment through ocean temperature increases. This typically results in raising the vertical stratification of the water column and altering the timing and intensity of upwelling and coastal winds. Of particular importance to useful marine ecosystems are mixing and wind-driven coastal upwelling because of the support they provide for major seabirds, fisheries and diverse marine life. Typically, upwelling brings cold, water that is rich in nutrients to the surface in near-shore locales. This support food webs that are highly productive. However, excessive wind could carry away planktonic organisms away from coastal areas.

The coastal systems are extremely unpredictable in time and locality. There is a chance for natural changes to take place every decade, yearly, seasonally or weekly. Additionally, upwelling could greatly vary as a result of the occurrence of El Niño Southern Oscillation events every two to seven years.

Life in the Pacific Northwest involves coexisting with a bunch of wildlife that occupies the space with their human counterparts. These animals are commonly found in ponds, gardens, crawl spaces, attics and other locations in which human beings and wildlife cross paths all over Oregon, British Columbia and Washington.

The wildlife population includes:

  • Bats

  • Beavers

  • Badgers

  • Bears (Grizzly and Black)

  • Bobcats

  • Cougars

  • Gray Wolves

  • Coyotes

  • House Mice

  • Deer Mice

  • Deer

  • Foxes

  • Elk

  • Marmots

  • Ground Squirrels

  • Shrews

  • Moles

  • Mountain Beavers

  • Moose

  • Nutrias

  • Muskrats

  • Packrats

  • Pocket Gophers

  • Opossums

  • Meadow Mice or Voles

  • Chipmunks

  • Tree Squirrel

  • Skunks

  • River Otters

  • Raccoons

  • Hares

  • Rabbit

  • Porcupines.

Eagle Salmo owl Whale sealions caribou

Main Economies of the Pacific Northwest
There is a large natural resource base in the Pacific Northwest but it is limited. This has resulted in an economy that cannot be described as highly diversified. The abundance of temperate climate and precipitation in the area support coniferous and dense forests that provide the basis for the dominance of the region in producing lumber, particleboard, plywood, paper and pulp. High precipitation levels and mountainous terrain have given the region a huge hydroelectric potential, concentrated on a system of power-generating plants and dams located on the Snake and Columbia rivers.

The mountainous terrain of the PNW is an indication that there is little land that is appropriate for agriculture and grazing and dairy farming are major agrarian activities. Growing of vegetables, fruits, mint, grass seeds and hardier grain crops are included among other agricultural activities. The waters that flow along the coast of the Pacific Northwest are ranked among the major international fishing centers.

Commercially, salmon is its most important fish; however, the region also has significant catches of shellfish, cod, Pollack, halibut and herring. Included among the additional economic activities of the Pacific Northwest are shipbuilding, shipping, aerospace industry, manufacturing of wood products.

Tourism in the Northwest
The Northwest has a unique flavor that ushers in admirers from all across the globe. Once you have visited, you will realize why so many individuals flock the region every year. No place else on earth combines city life sophistication with the grandeur of the outdoors quite like the North West. From the hip city scene of San Francisco to outdoor adventures in British Columbia and Victoria and the rich American history in Astoria, Oregon, a permanent move to the Northwest might just be something you consider.  Now, these are the true Northwest Charm and jewel.

In the PNW, a fresh and fascinating corner of North America awaits. In these places, nature provides a glimpse at her unfathomable range. There is also a fusion of enormously different topographies that teams up in a single unlikely painting. There are continuous stretches of sandy, windswept beaches; dense spans of sylvan forest; dramatic river valleys; remarkable crashing rivers; the pompous presence of towering volcanoes capped with snow and gigantic high deserts of juniper and sagebrush. Nature reigns supreme in this place where man still walks with reverence in his steps.

With its rich history, quirky sense of humor and slightly offbeat character, the Pacific North West is quite a charmer. This makes the region a place that is pleasurable to be around and difficult to say goodbye to.

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