The state offers much topographical diversity. The rich agricultural valley of the Tennessee River occupies the extreme northern part of the state. In northeastern Alabama the broken terrain of the southwestern fringe of the Appalachian Mountains begins and continues in a southwesterly progression across the northern half of the state. Below that the band of prairie lowland known as the Black Belt has rich soils that once cradled a rural cotton-producing way of life central to the state’s development. Farther south stretch piney woods and then coastal plains until one reaches the moss-draped live oaks of Mobile and the white beaches of the gulf.