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The Ugliest States in America

In Defense of Five States Named the Ugliest in the USA


Kansas Flint Hills

Kansas Flint Hills

Flickr user Kansas Photo
When it comes to beauty, states are a lot like people. Some are blessed with jaw-dropping topography or a ruggedness so handsome that it burns an image onto your brain and sets your heart a-flutter each time someone speaks his name. Still other states - and people - fail to elicit that spark, garnering nary a second glance. That's just the nature of things: there's no escaping geography and genetics.

In a beauty pageant between the states of California and Connecticut, California would surely win every time. But that's not to say that Connecticut, named one of the ugliest states in America in a recent SF International Travel Examiner article, doesn't have some admirable qualities.

As a firm believer in "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and an advocate of giving the benefit of the doubt, I would like to come to the defense of Connecticut, Delaware, Kansas, Nevada, and Oklahoma, and a find a little beauty in all of them

I am keen to agree with Bob Ecker, the author of the Examiner article, that Delaware is one of the ugliest states in the Union because I often look on the "First State" as nothing more than a couple toll booths with representation in Congress. But when I make Delaware the destination, it is often a delight. A summer day trip to the town of Lewes, settled by the Dutch in 1631, means an afternoon of swimming in the bay, antiques shopping, and a stop at one of eastern Delaware's many farm stands.

Ecker lists Nevada "with a heavy heart," but makes some valid points for its inclusion among the ugliest because of its history as a nuclear test zone and its unforgiving geography. Indeed, neon-enhanced Las Vegas has an aesthetic pleasing to some eyes. But I can't imagine adding to the ugly list a state that can claim part of Lake Tahoe.

Any negative impressions I have of Connecticut come mainly from my friends in New York and Massachusetts, two states so enamored with themselves to appreciate that strip of land that separates them. While Connecticut's urban centers aren't much to look at, I am fond of its colonial architecture and its maritime legacy, which combine nicely at Mystic Seaport. Ecker also hates Hartford, but the state seat does have a soaring, Gothic Revival-style capitol building that far exceeds the small state's stature.

Ecker's argument against Oklahoma almost proves the opposite point: "There's another level of infinite, lonely flatness to Oklahoma that takes your breath away." I imagine a visitor from a mountainous land setting his sights on Oklahoma for the first time and being awed by the "infinite flatness." Oklahoma is also home to the USA's most American Indian tribal headquarters. While modern reservations are hardly a thing of beauty, if you ever get the opportunity to visit a tribe on a feast day, the colorful and emotional spectacle will endear you to the Southwest.

Of all the states on this top five list, Kansas is the one I know the least. But, I was able to unearth some poetry about the Sunflower State which proves that beauty can be found anywhere, even on the lonesome prairie of Kansas. Esther M. (Clark) Hill's "The Call of Kansas," which describes the state's fragrant summer rains, windswept plains, and dusty, wild roses, almost makes me want to visit, if only for a New York minute.
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