The geography of Washington is divided between the rainy west coast and the semi-arid sagebrush high plains in the east. The two areas are split by the Cascade Mountains, a relatively young (and still volcanically active) range which runs north-south through the state. Major stratovolcanos in this range include Mount Rainier, the highest peak in the Northwest, Mount St. Helens, which erupted in 1980 killing 57 people, and Mount Adams, the second highest peak in the Northwest. Arguably the most important river is the Columbia, which forms the Columbia River gorge area along the border with Oregon and eventually cuts up into the interior of the state. The Olympic Peninsula in the far western section of the state is home to eco-sensitive petrified forests, some of the rainiest places in the world, and the only rain forest in the continental United States. In early history, the region of Washington was home to various well-established American Indian tribes before being claimed by Spain. Settlement was opened for Americans and British in 1790, and after 1819, Spain ceded control of the region to the U.S. Disputed claims between Britain and the United States raged until the Treaty of Oregon was signed on June 15th, 1846, passing all control of the region to the U.S. The establishment of the Oregon Trail led to an influx of settlers to the region, and in 1853 the area was designated Washington Territory. On November 11th 1889, it became the 42nd state to join the Union.
Washington is culturally and politically divided along the same geographical divisions, with Eastern Washington being home to a more conservative rural-based agriculture and ranching, whereas Western Washington is far more densely populated and liberal, with the economy more focused on high tech industries, shipping and manufacturing. The gross state product of Washington is 14th in the nation, just below Massachusetts and above Indiana. The population of the state is also 14th in the Union, and has significant Japanese, Hispanic and Filipino communities. Agriculture forms a large part of the economy, with the majority of the agriculture taking place in the eastern half of Washington. Notable crops are apples (in particular in the Yakima and Wenatchee regions), grapes (the second largest grape producer in the U.S.), and raspberries, which represent over 85% of the total U.S. production. Seattle, the largest city, is home to major corporations such as Microsoft, Boeing and Nintendo of America. Other important cities include Olympia, the capital, Tacoma, a major port city, and Spokane, the third largest city in the Northwest and unofficial capital of Eastern Washington. The Seattle area is a driving force in American culture, from Starbucks to grunge music, and is often rated as one of the top places in America to live. The city itself, the Cascade Range, and the Columbia River Gorge are all major tourist attractions. The political divide in Washington is pronounced, though the state tends to lean left based on the largest population in the western half of the state. While Seattle is considered one of the most liberal cities in the nation, Eastern Washington is politically much closer to Rocky Mountain or even Midwestern states. Washington's 11 electoral votes have gone to the last 4 Democratic Presidential candidates.