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50 states, one America: Happy Birthday!


As America approaches its 245th birthday, let’s take a look at some of the 50 states.

Recently, I got the opportunity to spend a few days in Alaska, America’s biggest state. (Sorry, Texas.) It was the 39th U.S. state I’ve visited.

Technically, I’ve visited more, as a 1-, 2- and 3-year-old traveling with my parents. But I don’t count those as I have no conscious recollection of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa or Minnesota. I also don’t count layovers in airports as actual state visits. However, leaving the airport for a nearby adventure to experience the state can be a fun challenge. That’s how I discovered the best pork chops I’ve ever eaten in my life, at La Wan’s Homestyle Cooking with Real Soul, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

However, for me, New Mexico has got a lot of states beat when it comes to certain categories.

Best State Flag? New Mexico’s red Zia symbol on the gold background is No. 1 for me. Its simple beauty, and deeper meaning give it elegance and power. There are some other states with nice flags (Colorado, Arizona, Alaska and South Carolina come to mind), but most of the others are too cluttered, with gaudy or overly detailed state seals and such.

Best State Bird? New Mexico’s roadrunner could probably take down any other state bird in competitions of skill or games of cunning. Remember, this bird can hold its own against a rattlesnake. Do you think Nevada’s mountain bluebird would really want to tangle with our roadrunner? You have to admit Idaho’s peregrine falcon is also pretty cool, but not as unique or crafty as the roadrunner.

Best State Flower? New Mexico’s state flower is a cactus. The yucca. How cool is that? Yeah, I know, Arizona’s state flower, the saguaro blossom, also qualifies as a cactus, but that blossom is just an afterthought on the mighty saguaro. With the yucca, the flower is the star of the show. Even the most amateur photographer can come back with a frame-worthy picture by simply framing a blooming yucca against any New Mexico backdrop. A lot of states are so unconvinced, they have several state flowers. I agree, the flowers are beautiful in Hawaii, but come on guys. Just pick one.

Best State Question? New Mexico may be the only state with a state question (Red or Green?), so we’ll go ahead and claim that category too. And, while we’re at it, let’s claim the best green chile cheeseburger as well. We can debate all day and night as to the best green chile cheeseburger in New Mexico, but we can all agree on the fact that, wherever the best green chile cheeseburger in America is, it is somewhere in New Mexico.

Best State Tree? While I love New Mexico’s piñon pine tree, I have to admit my favorite tree is the cottonwood. Yes, there are a lot of cottonwoods in New Mexico, beautifully lining our river bosques and brilliantly changing colors over intriguing shapes throughout the course of the seasons. However, the cottonwood happens to be the state tree of Kansas. Nevada’s bristlecone pine is also a very cool tree.

Random thoughts about our states: When you travel east on Interstate 10, and you see the sign that says, “El Paso 8, Beaumont 842,” that’s just Texas bragging. The only other Interstate which might have more miles in one state than I-10 in Texas could be I-5 in California. Interstate 40 in Oklahoma could be its own country music hall of fame. Here is a partial list of country music stars who grew up within 40 miles of Interstate 40 in Oklahoma: Roger Miller, Sheb Wooley, Eldon Shamblin, Blake Shelton, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Toby Keith, Carrie Underwood, Mel McDaniel, Reba McEntire, Woody Guthrie. Four states are not actually “states,” but were established under the term “commonwealth”: Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia and Kentucky. The Louisiana state motto is “Union, Justice and Confidence.” For purposes of my interests, though, a more apt Louisiana motto would be “Birthplace of Popeyes Fried Chicken.” Kentucky is well known for its bourbon, its horses and its basketball, but my little tour through the south-central part of the Bluegrass State (or, I guess, commonwealth) revealed more RC Cola machines and signs than I’ve ever seen concentrated in one place. Small towns in Hawaii and Alaska seem more like 1950s America towns than any I’ve ever seen; my theory is the geographical isolation has, in a way, preserved some of this old feel.

Everywhere you travel in this great land, you can still find unique, wonderful things and unique, wonderful people.

Happy Birthday, America!

Richard Coltharp