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The Seven Wonders of Washington State

A view of the Palouse Hills from Steptoe Butte, photo by Howard Frisk

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Photographer Howard Frisk was so inspired by Washington State's natural wonders that he wrote a book: "The Seven Wonders of Washington State"

As a Washington State native, Howard Frisk grew up exploring the mountains, grasslands and seashores of the Great Pacific Northwest at every opportunity. Now his favorite activity is taking photo road trips around the Evergreen State, always trying to capture the beauty that awaits those who seek it.

Washington State is an amazing place and what makes it so amazing is its natural wonders.

Washington may have the most varied landscape, climate and ecology in the United States, with mountains, deserts, rain forests, deep gorges, rich farmland and desolate scablands – all within a few hundred miles of each other.

Some of Washington State's natural wonders, such as Mount Rainier, are world famous. People come from all over the world to marvel at its massive glaciers, meadows bursting with millions of wildflowers or autumn leaves exploding with color. On the other hand, some of Washington State's natural wonders, such as the Channeled Scablands, are virtually unknown, even to most of the residents of Western Washington. These natural wonders are available for all of us to see and experience.

Inspired by the idea of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World, I decided to make my own list of the Seven Wonders of Washington State. I chose these locations because there is something very special about each one, they are easily accessible, and they provide opportunities to have personal experiences with the most fascinating places nature has to offer.

Most of these wonders are one-of-a-kind geological formations that are found nowhere else in the world. Washington State is among the most ecologically diverse states in the country, and each of the seven wonders represents a different aspect of that ecological diversity. These seven wonders are all located within a few hours driving distance from Seattle and most are accessible year-round. Where else on Earth can you travel from a rain forest to a desert in less than 100 miles?

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People come from all over the world to marvel at Mount Rainier – including its rain forests, wildflowers and 26 major glaciers. Photo by Howard Frisk

First and foremost is Mount Rainier, one of the most amazing places on earth. Some of the original inhabitants of the area called Rainier Tahoma, which can be roughly translated as “God’s home.” With 26 major glaciers, Mount Rainier is the most glaciated mountain in the contiguous US. At 14,411 feet, it rises high above its surroundings to become one of the most massive mountains on earth. Within the Mount Rainier National Park boundaries, you can find temperate rain forests, alpine meadows, rocky tundra, forested valleys, glaciers, hot springs, rivers, lakes, wildflowers in the summer and blazing fall foliage in the autumn. There are several picturesque lakes near Mount Rainier. The most accessible are Reflection Lakes, located on the southeast side of the mountain along Stevens Canyon Road. You can park on the side of the road and see a perfect reflection of Mount Rainier without even getting out of your car! The wildflower season on Mount Rainier is short but spectacular, with July and August normally being the best time to see them.

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Mount St. Helens is the only volcano in the contiguous 48 states to erupt in modern times. Photo by Howard Frisk

Second is Mount St. Helens, which has the distinction of being the only volcano in the contiguous 48 states to erupt in modern times. When the north side of the mountain collapsed, it created the largest landslide in recorded history. The mudflow was 600 feet deep in places and the ash plume fell on cars as far away as South Dakota. The eruption on May 18, 1980 destroyed 185 miles of roads, 47 bridges, 250 homes, wiped out hundreds of square miles of forest and killed 57 people. But the story of Mount St. Helens is not just about death and destruction; it is also about recovery. Naturalists are surprised at how quickly nature has started to reclaim the devastated landscape. Today visitors have the opportunity to explore the blast zone around Mount St. Helens first-hand through a network of trails, guided walks and presentations by volunteers.

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