Oregon, Land of Contrasts, by Ted Cookson

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by Ted Cookson
Published in March 2008

Mt. Hood:  Oregon's highest peak, 32-second video clip

The northwestern U. S. state of Oregon is the nation's tenth-largest, with an area of 251,419 square km (97,073 square miles).  Sandwiched between California, Idaho, Washington, and the Pacific Ocean, Oregon contains four main geographical regions.  From west to east, those regions are:  the Pacific coast and the adjacent Coast Range; the fertile Willamette Valley; the beautiful Cascade Range and the much drier high desert plateau of Eastern Oregon.  

The 583-kilometer-long (362-mile-long) Oregon coast includes rain forest, sand dunes and high basalt cliffs.  The principal feature of the south coast is its evergreen forests.  The largest stretch of oceanfront dunes in the U. S. lies along the south coast between Coos Bay and Florence.  In the far north, Astoria, Lewis and Clark's destination on the Pacific, could be considered to be the oldest U. S. town west of Missouri.  Altitudes in the Coast Range typically vary between 610 meters (2,000 feet) and 914 meters (3,000 feet).  Mary's Peak, 19 km (12 miles) southwest of Corvallis, is the highest peak of the Coast Range with an altitude of 1,249 (4,097 feet).

The width of the fertile Willamette Valley ("Wil-a'-met" with the stress being on the middle syllable where the "a" is pronounced like the "a" in "fat"), stretching 193 km (120 miles) from south of Portland to below Eugene, varies from 40 to 64 km (25 to 40 miles).  Settlers from the East began to arrive in this valley of plenty via the 3,219-kilometer-long (2,000-mile-long) Oregon Trail in the mid-nineteenth century, and this part of Oregon has always been the state's population center.  Both Salem, the capital and third-largest city, and Eugene, the second largest city, are located in the Willamette Valley. 

Portland, with a population of some 537,000, is situated near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers.  Oregon's largest city by far and also its commercial center, the metropolis was named after Portland, Maine in 1844 by the winner of a coin toss.  (The other pioneer wanted to name the city after Boston, Massachusetts.)  Portland's location has always enabled it to serve as an outlet to the sea for the Willamette Valley's agricultural produce as well as timber from Oregon's extensive forests.  Over two-thirds of Oregon's population lives in Portland or within 48 km (30 miles) of the city.

The 25-million-year-old Cascade Range runs from north to south some 161 to 241 km (100 to 150 miles) from the ocean.  These mountains separate Oregon's wet western section from its dry eastern half.   The western slopes of the Cascades can attract up to 381 cm (150 inches) of rain and snow annually whereas those living east of the Cascades enjoy a mere 12 inches of precipitation annually and about 200 days a year of sunshine.  Mt. Hood, Oregon's highest peak at 3,424 meters (11,235 feet), is the world's second-most-climbed glacier-covered peak.  Incidentally, Mt. Hood was named for the British admiral who presided over the Mutiny on the Bounty trials.  Four of Oregon's other Cascade peaks exceed 3,048 meters (10,000 feet) in height.

Eastern Oregon, lying in the rain shadow created by the Cascades, can be scorching by day and yet cool at night.  It is a land of lava beds, livestock and fossils.  Although less than 13% of Oregon's population lives east of the Cascades, parts of eastern Oregon are growing by leaps and bounds.  During the 1980s and 1990s the population of Bend doubled to 60,000.  Known for its skiing and other outdoor activities, Bend is often cited as being one of the best small American cities in which to live.  

Oregon also boasts some superlatives.   For instance, Crater Lake in south central Oregon is North America's deepest lake.  Hells Canyon, created by the Snake River along Oregon's northeastern border with Idaho and averaging 2,012 meters (6,600 feet) in depth, is the world's deepest river-carved gorge.

ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 307 of the 317 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  ept@link.net.  Web site:  www.eptours.com

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