The state has three sharply defined regions: East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and West Tennessee. In East Tennessee the Great Smoky Mts., Cumberland Plateau, and the narrow river valleys and heavily forested foothills generally restrict farming there to the subsistence level; but this region has two of the state's most industrialized cities, Chattanooga (fourth largest) and Knoxville (third largest). Middle Tennessee is hemmed in by the Tennessee River, which flows SW through East Tennessee into Alabama, looping back up into West Tennessee in its circuitous route to the Ohio. Gently rolling, fertile, bluegrass country, it is ideal for livestock raising and dairy farming. Middle Tennessee is still noted for its fine horses and mules, e.g., the Tennessee walking horse.
West Tennessee, with its rich river-bottom lands, on which most of the state's cotton is grown, lies between the Tennessee and the Mississippi rivers. The average annual rainfall ranges from 40 to 50 in. (101.6–127 cm), and the climate ranges from humid continental in the north of the state to humid subtropical in the south; the rigors of a northern winter usually affect only the most mountainous parts of East Tennessee.
Twenty-three state parks, covering some 132,000 acres (53,420 hectares) as well as parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee National Forest, and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park are in Tennessee. Sportsmen and visitors are attracted to Reelfoot Lake, originally formed by an earthquake; stumps and other remains of a once dense forest, together with the lotus bed covering the shallow waters, give the lake an eerie beauty.
The state also has many sites of historic interest, including the Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson; the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site; Shiloh National Military Park; and Fort Donelson and Stones River national battlefields. Part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is also in Tennessee (see National Parks and Monuments, table). The Natchez Trace National Parkway generally follows the old Natchez Trace. Nashville is the capital and the second largest city. The largest city is Memphis.
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