The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Best state in America: New Mexico, for its high-flying flag

Ninety-nine years ago today, America began to celebrate its most enduring symbol: the flag. It is an “emblem of our unity, our power, our thought and purpose as a nation,” President Woodrow Wilson said a year after proclaiming the first Flag Day.

That much is true of all flags: They are elegant, striking and recognizable symbols of the people over whom they fly. But the American flag does not stand alone. Over time, each state has adopted, altered and proudly aired a flag of its own.

Yet not all are created equal. None is as well designed as New Mexico’s, at least according to a survey conducted by the North American Vexillological Association, dedicated to the study of flags.

Its members favored “strong, simple, distinctive flags,” the group wrote in announcing the results of a survey conducted in 2001, its most recent such poll. Unlike the flags of Nebraska, Montana and Kansas, which sport the crowded landscapes of each state’s seal, New Mexico’s conforms to all three principles. In the center of its yellow flag sits a red circle representing the sun, with four rays extending in each cardinal direction, forming the rough shape of a plus sign. The flag, adopted 90 years ago, borrows that design, the Zia symbol, from the tribe of the same name.

But while the Land of Enchantment scored highest in the survey, NAVA President John Hartvigsen is quick to stress that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. “Everyone has their own favorite,” he says, adding that the group takes no official stance on which flags are best designed.

Other top-scoring flags also boasted simple designs, meaningful symbolism and a few basic colors. Texas ranked second, with its lone star flag, followed by Quebec, Maryland and Alaska. The flag of Washington, D.C., based on George Washington’s coat of arms, fared well in the survey, too, ranking eighth.

“It’s very bold and striking, and people recognize it,” Hartvigsen says.