Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the Western United States. The Columbia River delineates much of Oregon’s northern boundary with Washington, while the Snake River delineates much of its eastern boundary with Idaho. The 42° north parallel delineates the southern boundary with California and Nevada.
The earliest evidence of the name Oregon has Spanish origins. The term “orejón” (meaning “big ear”) comes from the historical chronicle Relación de la Alta y Baja California (1598), written by Rodrigo Montezuma of New Spain; it made reference to the Columbia River when the Spanish explorers penetrated into the North American territory that became part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.
This chronicle is the first topographical and linguistic source with respect to the place name Oregon. There are also two other sources with Spanish origins, such as the word oregano, referring to a plant that grows in the southern part of the region. It is possible that the American territory was named by the Spaniards, as there is a stream in Spain called the “Arroyo del Oregón” (which is located in the province of Ciudad Real); it is also possible that the “j” in the Spanish phrase “El Orejón” was later corrupted into a “g”, and in context might refer to the ‘earful’ of the massive Columbia River at its mouth.
Oregon is 295 miles (475 km) north to south at longest distance, and 395 miles (636 km) east to west. With an area of 98,381 square miles (254,810 km2), Oregon is slightly larger than the United Kingdom. It is the ninth largest state in the United States. Oregon’s highest point is the summit of Mount Hood, at 11,249 feet (3,429 m), and its lowest point is the sea level of the Pacific Ocean along the Oregon Coast. Oregon’s mean elevation is 3,300 feet (1,006 m). Crater Lake National Park, the state’s only national park, is the site of the deepest lake in the United States at 1,943 feet (592 m). Oregon claims the D River as the shortest river in the world, though the state of Montana makes the same claim of its Roe River. Oregon is also home to Mill Ends Park (in Portland), the smallest park in the world at 452 square inches (0.29 m2).
Oregon is split into eight geographical regions. In Western Oregon: Oregon Coast (west of the Coast Range), the Willamette Valley, Rogue Valley, Cascade Range and Klamath Mountains; and in Central and Eastern Oregon: the Columbia Plateau, the High Desert, and the Blue Mountains.
Most of Oregon has a generally mild climate, though there is significant variation given the variety of landscapes across the state. The state’s western region (west of the Cascade Range) has an oceanic climate, populated by dense evergreen mixed forests. Western Oregon’s climate is heavily influenced by the Pacific Ocean; the western third of Oregon is very wet in the winter, moderately to very wet during the spring and fall, and dry during the summer. The relative humidity of Western Oregon is high except during summer days, which are semi-dry to semi-humid; Eastern Oregon typically sees low humidity year-round.
The state’s southwestern portion, particularly the Rogue Valley, has a Mediterranean climate with drier and sunnier winters and hotter summers, similar to Northern California. Oregon’s northeastern portion has a steppe climate, and its high terrain regions have a subarctic climate. Like Western Europe, Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest in general, is considered warm for its latitude, and the state has far milder winters at a given elevation than comparable latitudes elsewhere in North America, such as the Upper Midwest, Ontario, Quebec and New England. However, the state ranks fifth for coolest summer temperatures of any state in the country, after Maine, Idaho, Wyoming, and Alaska.
Oregon’s population is largely concentrated in the Willamette Valley, which stretches from Eugene in the south (home of the University of Oregon) through Corvallis (home of Oregon State University) and Salem (the capital) to Portland (Oregon’s largest city).
Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River, was the first permanent English-speaking settlement west of the Rockies in what is now the United States. Oregon City, at the end of the Oregon Trail, was the Oregon Territory’s first incorporated city, and was its first capital from 1848 until 1852, when the capital was moved to Salem. Bend, near the geographic center of the state, is one of the ten fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States. In southern Oregon, Medford is a rapidly growing metro area and is home to the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport, the state’s third-busiest airport. To the south, near the California border, is the city of Ashland. Eastern Oregon is sparsely populated, but is home to Hermiston, which with a population of 18,000 is the largest and fastest-growing city in the region.
Oregon has frequently been cited by statistical agencies for having a smaller percentage of religious communities than other U.S. states. According to a 2009 Gallup poll, Oregon was paired with Vermont as the two “least religious” states in the United States.
In the same 2009 Gallup poll, 69% of Oregonians identified themselves as being Christian. The largest Christian denominations in Oregon by number of adherents in 2010 were the Roman Catholic Church with 398,738; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with 147,965; and the Assemblies of God with 45,492. Oregon also contains the largest community of Russian Old Believers to be found in the United States. Judaism is the largest non-Christian religion in Oregon with more than 50,000 adherents, 47,000 of whom live in the Portland area. Recently, new kosher food and Jewish educational offerings have led to a rapid increase in Portland’s Orthodox Jewish population. The Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association is headquartered in Portland. There are an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 Muslims in Oregon, most of whom live in and around Portland.
As of 2015, Oregon ranks as the 17th highest in median household income at $60,834. The gross domestic product (GDP) of Oregon in 2013 was $219.6 billion, a 2.7% increase from 2012; Oregon is the 25th wealthiest state by GDP. In 2003, Oregon was 28th in the U.S. by GDP. The state’s per capita personal income (PCPI) in 2013 was $39,848, a 1.5% increase from 2012. Oregon ranks 33rd in the U.S. by PCPI, compared to 31st in 2003. The national PCPI in 2013 was $44,765.
Oregon’s unemployment rate was 5.5% in September 2016, while the U.S. unemployment rate was 5.0% that month. Oregon has the third largest amount of food stamp users in the nation (21% of the population).
Oregon is home to three major professional sports teams: the Portland Trail Blazers of the NBA, the Portland Thorns FC of the NWSL and the Portland Timbers of MLS.
Until 2011, the only major professional sports team in Oregon was the Portland Trail Blazers of the National Basketball Association. From the 1970s to the 1990s, the Blazers were one of the most successful teams in the NBA in terms of both win–loss record and attendance. In the early 21st century, the team’s popularity declined due to personnel and financial issues, but revived after the departure of controversial players and the acquisition of new players such as Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, and still later Damian Lillard. The Blazers play in the Moda Center in Portland’s Lloyd District, which also is home to the Portland Winterhawks of the junior Western Hockey League.
The Portland Timbers play at Providence Park, just west of downtown Portland. The Timbers have a strong following, with the team regularly selling out its games. The Timbers repurposed the formerly multi-use stadium into a soccer-specific stadium in fall 2010, increasing the seating in the process. The Timbers operate Portland Thorns FC, a women’s soccer team that has played in the National Women’s Soccer League since the league’s first season in 2013. The Thorns, who also play at Providence Park, have won two league championships, in the inaugural 2013 season and also in 2017, and have been by far the NWSL’s attendance leader in each of the league’s seasons.
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