Okay, I admit it. I love New Hampshire. Yes, I know it's not quite as postcard-worthy as Vermont, and not nearly so lobster-loaded as Maine. The state charges everyone, even residents, an annoying $2 to traverse a measly 15 miles of coastal interstate highway (with no views). Beaches are nearly nonexistent. The fields here are full of rocks, and the winter is much too long.

That "Live Free or Die" license plate? It's for real. Granite Staters regard zoning as a grand conspiracy to undermine property rights. Last time I checked, the state did not have any bottle-return laws, bills banning billboards, legislation requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, nor sales or income taxes on its books. Longtime resident Robert Frost once famously opined that "Good fences make good neighbors," and -- though times are changing with an influx of new arrivals from out of state -- folks here agree. Most of them still prefer that government keep its distance, thank you very much.

Yet that's what makes this place so wonderful to visit: its authenticity. You'll hear real accents, and witness real ingenuity and parsimony. New Hampshire savors its reputation as an outpost of plucky, heroic, independent citizens fighting the good fight against intrusive laws and irksome bureaucrats -- the same sort of folks who took up arms and thumbed their noses at King George way back when.

This rebellious attitude has had consequences, of course. State legislators have had to become extremely creative when financing public services. Many are funded either by lottery sales or through the state's stiff "tourist tax" (8% on meals and hotel lodging), or by hefty local property taxes that hit residents hard. Candidates for virtually every local, state, or national office must take "The Pledge," vowing to fight any effort to impose a sales or income tax here. To shirk "The Pledge" is tantamount to political suicide.

Get beyond New Hampshire's affable crankiness, though, and you find at its core is a tough independence and a laconic acceptance that -- no matter what -- you can't change the weather, and you can't expect the Red Sox to win. (Well, scratch the latter -- the Sox did win. Hallelujah!) Travelers passing through can find these attitudes in spades -- plus pickup trucks, pancake houses, hunting caps, and country-rock music.

It's not all about flannel shirts and rifle racks here, though. For one thing, you'll find that Granite Staters know how to have fun: The band Aerosmith and comic actor Adam Sandler both sprung from here. You'll also find wonderfully diverse terrain -- from beaches to broad lakes to impressive hills and mountains. Within an hour's drive here, you can toss a Frisbee on a long beach; ride bikes along country lanes; hike rugged granite hills blasted by some of the most severe weather in the world; and canoe or boat on a placid lake in the company of moose and loons.

You'll also find good country inns and home cooking. Most of all, you'll find a strong dose of the wily independence that has defined New England since the first settlers arrived 3 1/2 centuries ago.