The nation's space exploration and research program had its start in Huntsville, when Dr. Wernher von Braun and a team of German scientists began working at the Redstone Arsenal at the close of World War II. Today, visitors can learn about their work at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

When you've had enough of space technology, travel back to the 19th century with a visit to the Historic Huntsville Depot. The 1860s train station served as a prison during the Civil War. (Graffiti left by POWs is still visible.) Trolley tours of downtown Huntsville, which was the first English settlement in Alabama, begin at the depot. Don't miss Alabama Constitution Village, a historical re-creation of life and work at the meeting place of Alabama's first Constitutional Convention in 1819.

If it's at all possible, make the drive to the northeast corner of the state to see Russell Cave National Monument (near Bridgeport, 60 mi/100 km northeast), an archaeologically important—and fascinating—cave. It was occupied for 10,000 years (8000 BC to AD 1650), mainly as a shelter in the winter (phone 256-495-9220; You can also see a frozen waterfall at Cathedral Caverns in Grant, 30 mi/50 km southeast of Huntsville (phone 256-728-8193). Bird-watchers flock to Lake Guntersville State Park (near Guntersville, 30 mi/48 km southeast), where bald eagles have been known to winter. Huntsville is 80 mi/130 km north of Birmingham.

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