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You probably didn’t know that the first Mardi Gras was held in Mobile, Alabama, not in New Orleans. But then Mobile’s Mardi Gras is just the tip of the parade of Alabama firsts. Whether it’s building the Saturn rockets that powered America’s race to the moon at what is now the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, or whether it’s hurtling NASCAR entrants around the track at the Talledega Superspeedway, Alabama gets there fast and first. That includes Alabama superstars Jesse Owens, Hank Aaron and Joe Louis.

One reason Alabama gets there first is that people in this state have the courage to take the hard road and the vision to see what’s at the end of it. A young Montgomery minister named Martin Luther King, Jr. saw a day when people would be judged “not by the color of their skin,” and together with Alabama civil rights pioneers like Rosa Parks, he began a movement that would change America. The Tuskegee Institute would also blaze a trail, in the classroom under the direction of George Washington Carver and in the sky, with the wings of the famed Tuskegee airmen.

Alabama doesn’t take a backseat in the arts, either, as the lifelong home of To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee (who grew up next door to Truman Capote) and as the birthplace of musical greats ranging from W.C. Handy to Nat King Cole to Hank Williams.

Williams sang “Hey, good lookin’, whatcha got cookin’?” And when it comes to Alabama attractions, the answer is a deliciously full menu of recreation, culture and landscapes of unsurpassed beauty, everything from bird watching trails to sandy white beaches and mountains to museums.

Along the Natchez Trace, you’ll encounter plenty of those attractions and plenty of Alabama visionaries at the birthplaces of Helen Keller and W. C. Handy, at the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Rosenbaum House, at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and at FAME Recording Studio where the “Muscle Shoals Sound” burst onto the national scene. Try a swing down the Robert Trent Jones golf trail, or take a steam at the Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa.

The launch of your great adventure is just ahead.

Learn more about the communities along the Trace in Alabama: