For many people who live on the wet west side of the Cascades, life in Washington would be nearly impossible if it were not for the sunny east side of the mountains. Eastern Washington lies in the rain shadow of the Cascades, and many parts of the region receive less than 10 inches of rain per year. This lack of rain is also accompanied by plenty of sunshine -- an average of 300 days annually. These statistics prove irresistible to folks from Puget Sound, who often head to eastern Washington to dry out.
There's little rainfall, but the region's rivers, including the Columbia, have been dammed and now provide sufficient irrigation water to make eastern Washington a major agricultural area. Apples, pears, cherries, wine grapes, wheat, and potatoes are staple crops of a land where only sagebrush and bunchgrass once grew. Thousands of years ago, massive floods on the Columbia River created the region's fascinating geological wonders -- a dry waterfall four times larger than Niagara Falls and abandoned riverbeds known as coulees. One of these dry river beds now lends its name to the state's largest dam -- Grand Coulee Dam.
Down in the southeastern corner of the state, near the college and wheat-farming town of Walla Walla, the desert gives way to the Blue Mountains. It was near here that the region's first white settlers, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, set up a mission in order to convert Native Americans to Christianity. The Whitmans were later killed by Cayuse Indians angered by the Whitman's inability to cure a fatal measles epidemic that swept through the native population. In recent years, Walla Walla has become one of Washington's fastest-growing winery regions. North of Walla Walla lie the Palouse Hills, a scenic region of rolling hills blanketed with the most productive wheat farms in the U.S.
Though Yakima attracts sun-seekers from the western part of the state, it is Spokane at the far east side of the state near the Idaho state line, that is the region's largest city. With proximity to forests and mountains and a setting on the banks of the Spokane River, it appeals to outdoors enthusiasts. The city's far easterly location, however, makes it seem more a part of the Rocky Mountain states than of the Northwest.