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Discover Unexpected Pleasures And Special Treasures
By Lynn Grisard Fullman

If you have ever seen a tapestry, you have some idea what to expect in Alabama's 16 northern counties. You see, this place is a picture, created with threads and colors, weavings and artistry. Together, they form a work of art worthy of being hung on the wall of a statehouse or mansion.

The natural wonders within this 100-mile radius were contributed by Mother Nature who flung down caves and caverns, mountain laurels and honeysuckle, waterfalls and rivers, fish and wildlife. Tall trees and sprawling lakes also are here along with state parks, Bankhead National Forest, Little River Canyon, and migrating ducks, eagles and Canada geese.

With the background painted by a benevolent Mother Nature, man came along and enhanced the tapestry, carving in walking trails, establishing a wildlife refuge, planting botanical gardens, constructing covered bridges and engineering boats to traverse waterways.

To unravel these threads, visitors have only to head out on walking or driving tours or survey the waters aboard riverboats - the Free State Lady in Winston County or Alabama Princess in Gadsden. Some have discovered the affordable escape at Goose Pond Colony, a several hundred acre municipal park with golf, camping, cottages, pool, boat launch and marina.

Man was kind and gentle when he adopted these lands filled with rushing streams and massive trees. He added, but did not detract. In the 1970s Decatur, at Point Mallard, became the nation's first place to have a wave pool, which since has been joined by a gaggle of others.

Before that decade, men toiled in Huntsville to fulfill the nation's role in a space program remembered today at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

Throughout this region, man has carved passages, including eight highways, interstates 65 and 59, and a scenic Lookout Mountain Parkway. Some Alabamians have opened their homes as bed and breakfasts; and others set aside woodland to be used as campgrounds for those wanting to visit more closely with Mother Nature.

A half dozen state parks - Buck's Pocket, DeSoto, Joe Wheeler, Lake Guntersville, Monte Sano and Rickwood Caverns - are affordable wonderlands offering everything from rustic camp sites to championship golf, tennis, record-setting fishing, and cozy cottages and chalets.

With the tapestry in place, people were quick to discover the joys of fishing, golfing, boating and hiking. At Russell Cave, the state's only national monument, there are clues hinting at inhabitants who lived and worked here thousands of years ago. The intrigue filtered through the first native Americans who, too, have left evidence of their unique lifestyles.

Once people came, it was just a matter of time before some distinguished themselves, leaving legacies of distinction. North Alabama is the birthplace of Helen Keller, a deaf and blind woman who earned a college degree and championed the cause of others with similar challenges. Born here also were blues great W.C. Handy, Confederate General Joe Wheeler, and track star Jesse Owens who captured four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The state's early years are remembered today in Huntsville, where Alabama Constitution Village, a living history museum, restructures what life was like when Alabama's statehood was bestowed. It is a place especially popular with youngsters who find women dipping wax candles, woodworkers creating furniture and cooks baking bread.

Some cities may look sleepy but don't be deceived. Historic Mooresville, for instance, was progressive enough to lure big-time movie makers for the filming of a movie about Tom Sawyer.

Mentone, another town where man and nature mesh, is the place to find quaint shops, unusual restaurants, bed and breakfasts, the state's only dude ranch and - believe it or not - a ski resort which pumps out its own snow when winter temperatures cooperate.

Visitors both old and young are intrigued by miniature replicas of world-famous buildings built by Brother Joseph at Ave Maria Grotto in the German-rooted town of Cullman.

Where nature leaves off, man intervenes in this segment of the state where there are more than 100 attractions including art galleries, museums, indoor stages and outdoor amphitheaters which showcase a Civil War drama at Looney's Park in Double Springs and the dramatic "Miracle Worker" at Helen Keller's birthplace in Tuscumbia.

Man's devotions also are remembered - with a cemetery dedicated solely to beloved coon dogs and a shopping outlet center that lures bargain hunters from across the nation. Others are intrigued by the abundance of flea markets, antique shops and unique stores. Cullman has a country village; Florence and Rogersville have antique malls; and Scottsboro is, perhaps, best known as the place where airline unclaimed baggage finds its destiny.

And music? That you can find showcased at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, a Tuscumbia site honoring Alabama natives and their musical contributions, and the ALABAMA Fan Club and Museum in Fort Payne where the country band's success is documented.

Roots are as important as wings in this segment of Alabama where there are museums preserving yesterdays - such as Burritt Museum overlooking Huntsville, depots-turned-museums in Stevenson and Huntsville, Indian mounds in Florence and Oakville, and a replicated home housing Cullman's earlier days.

When the people of North Alabama aren't paying tribute, they are recreating - with music fests, events celebrating the region's roots and lifestyle, festivals saluting the area's lifestyle and commemorating everything from Civil War events to Native American heritage.

It wouldn't be Dixie without good eating. North Alabama has intriguing places to dine. And, there are good foods. For instance, you might sample the one-of-a-kind barbecue and the catfish that come straight from area waters. With the tapestry of wonders as a backdrop, fall colors in North Alabama make it seem that Mother Nature most likely used every color in her palette to paint here, to create a tapestry that has come to be known as one of the nation's most beautiful havens.

We love this place, not just because Mother Nature has been so benevolent but because it's our home - and we invite you to come and see for yourself.

For information on special events and travel destinations in North Alabama, call the North Alabama Tourism Association, formerly the Alabama Mountain Lakes Association, at (800) 648-5381 or (256) 350-3500, visit their web site at www.northalabama.org or e-mail the staff at info@northalabama.org.

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