01/18/2014 09:05 am ET Updated Oct 22, 2015

Saipan Is The Most Beautiful Place In America You've Never Heard Of

There's a story, possibly apocryphal, about a federal drug agent who was stationed on a tropical island near Guam -- and every time she called headquarters back in D.C., the conversation would begin like this.

"I'm calling from Saipan. Yes, we have an office there. Because it's part of America."

Indeed, Saipan is part of America -- it's the most populated of the Northern Mariana Islands, an insular chain with a complicated history that became administered by the U.S. after World War II, and has been a U.S. commonwealth since 1978.

People born there are U.S. citizens. The official currency is the U.S. dollar. As of 2009, the Northern Mariana Islands has had a representative -- non-voting, like all the territories' representatives, but still there -- in the U.S. Congress.

Indeed again, as everyone who's lived there can tell you, most mainland Americans don't know any of that. Regrettably, the ones who do are probably aware of the island -- which is in Micronesia, just north of Guam, south of Japan, east of the Philippines and west of Hawaii -- due to its tainted reputation stemming from a political scandal involving a certain Texan who later appeared on Dancing With The Stars.

Certainly, life on a tropical island has problems, as does life anywhere. Sometimes, like with that dancing Texan, it's just that the problems are a little more unusual.

But know this: at least in Saipan, you'll experience those unusual problems in a setting that is quite spectacularly beautiful, with beaches, scuba diving, golf, festivals, hiking, history, wildlife (some of which has been eaten into near-extinction, much of which hasn't), still more beaches, a charmingly weird mascot and year-round temperatures in the 80s.

Here, see for yourself:


Thanks to photographers Mark D. Robertson, Leslie Ware and Mike Ronesia for your photos.