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About the Author
Gary McKechnie

Gary McKechnie
  • Entertaining Media Guest
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  • Two-time Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award Winner
  • Benjamin Franklin Award Winner
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An Entertaining Presenter

Having followed in the footsteps of Charles Kuralt, Gary's own epic travels have given him an unparalleled education in our nation's history, culture, and pastimes. Visit AEI Speakers to arrange for Gary to share with your group fascinating stories of American humor, heroism, and inspiration.

READ: Gary's Road Trips

Prairie Hog
Vacationing for a Living


I know how I feel about USA 101, but let me know what you think - and add your suggestions for future editions.
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Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana,
Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee

Southeast Highlights

Mount Airy (Mayberry)
MOUNT AIRY (Mayberry)
North Carolina

In every city and town between Savannah and San Diego, any conversation that touches upon the virtues of a small town will invariably include the name Mayberry. Although it’s a fantasy, thanks to Andy Griffith and his memories of his hometown it’s become a real part of America.

Tent Revival
American South

Supplanted by the broad reach of radio, television, and the Internet today only a dwindling band of itinerant preachers still take to the road to pitch a tent and deliver the Word. While it’s a method of communication rooted in the past, to be fair, so is their message.

Mississippi Delta
Northwest Mississippi

A century ago it seemed even hope was a luxury for black field hands and sharecroppers trying to make a living in the Mississippi Delta. Confined to decades of endless labor, their songs were their emotional outlet. Soon the music of men like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Son House, and Elmore James left the Mississippi fields and shacks and was heard in juke joints and on jukeboxes. It’s the music that inspired nearly everything else.

Fort Sumter
Charleston, South Carolina

For nearly a century after American became a nation, politicians had passed the buck when it came to slavery. Until 1861 no one faction was willing to put the nation’s unity at risk over this single issue. Now the battle had to begin somewhere. That somewhere was going to be Fort Sumter.

Kentucky Derby
Louisville, Kentxucky

The Kentucky Derby clocks in about four hours shy of the Super Bowl, but seems to contain nearly the same level of excitement. Compress the anticipation, spectacle, and fact several million dollars are being won and lost on the performance of a three-year-old, and you can understand its reputation as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports.”

Clowns in Tye-Died T-Shirts at Mardi-Gras
New Orleans, Louisiana

If you compared two of the nation’s most famous parades -- New Orleans’ Mardi Gras and New York’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day spectacle – you’d realize there’s really no comparison. What New Orleans’ bacchanal has going for it is a degree of outrageousness that places it on a throne of hedonism and debauchery. Need proof? Has a woman ever pulled up her top when Popeye floated by?

Kennedy Space Center
Titusville, Florida

How, in less than a decade, did America go from exploding rockets on the launch pad to putting men on the moon? Through an incredible pairing of science, technology, competition, and spirit. That’s what it took for America to face off with the Soviets in the Space Race – and win.

The launch pad for this national victory? Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.

Kitty Hawk
North Carolina

The story of Wilbur and Orville Wright is one of most extraordinary in history. Using sheer persistence and ingenuity and without assistance from any individual or institution, the soft-spoken bicycle mechanics, self-taught scientists, and engineers took flight apart piece by piece and solved dozens of problems that had stalled experts for centuries. They did it all from the workshop of their bicycle business in Dayton, Ohio, and then proved it on the sands of Kill Devil Hills.

Southern Most Point in Continental US. - Key West

Sorry, but it’s just a legend Ponce de Leon went to St. Augustine seeking the Fountain of Youth. If he really had been looking he would have been better off sailing to Key West anyway. Found at the tip of a string of barrier islands that form an arc into the Straits of Florida, this is where Ponce’s spiritual descendents renew their youth through a special potion. It’s an elixir known as a margarita.

Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis, Tennessee

From roots of obscurity and poverty Elvis Presley achieved global fame and immense wealth. Sadly, the level of fame draped upon Elvis was a burden so heavy it crushed him. He died virtually isolated at Graceland at the age of 42, proving it can be dangerous to get all you want… but not all you need. The King is dead, long live Graceland.

Miami Beach

You can travel the eastern seaboard and the entire Pacific Coast, but no other beach in America will offer the feeling you’ll find in Miami Beach. On a typical evening on Ocean Drive, you’ll step into a subtropical paradise from the past. Swaying palms are silhouetted against the fabled ‘moon over Miami’, couples are relaxed in the sanctuary of open-air cafés, and surf rolls in ceaselessly on the shore. All of this is accented by the Kodachrome colors of restored Art Deco hotels, the perfume of brilliant tropical flowers, and an endless parade of bronzed women and buff Latin playboys.

Rock City, Georgia
Lookout Mountain, Georgia

Kitsch, cool, and an American original, Rock City is America’s minimalist theme park. There are no fireworks, no virtual reality games, no stage extravaganzas or thrill rides. Their sales pitch is an equally streamlined, yet effective. Few Madison Avenue ad campaigns can compete with the park’s simple barn roof request that you should ‘See Rock City’. Just imagine how successful Microsoft could have been had Bill Gates just painted a few barn roofs.

Grand Ole Opry
Nashville, Tennessee

Of the hundreds of musical styles competing for attention on the airwaves and Internet, country music seems to have the least difficulty finding an audience. It began with Irish and British immigrants bringing with them an invaluable treasury of folk music that mingled with the African-inspired spirituals of slaves. This hybrid found new expression on handmade banjos, guitars, autoharps, and fiddles. Since 1925, the Grand Ole Opry has chronicled and celebrated the development of country music, never diminishing one aspect over another. In other words, by paying tribute to its roots and giving newcomers the chance to branch out, the Grand Old Opry remains timeless.

Great Smoky Mountains
Tennessee/North Carolina

Some researchers have theorized that the Garden of Eden was in Iraq, Scotland, northeast Africa, or somewhere along the Persian Gulf. My educated opinion is that it still exists, and it straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.

Protected as a national park, the Great Smoky Mountains are home to more varieties of trees here than in all of the European continent. Drive the roads or walk the trails and you’ll glimpse trout lillies, yellow trillium, flame azaleas, rhododendrons, mountain laurels, fire pinks and more than 1,600 other types of flowers. Living here are animals found nowhere else on the planet, each roaming across a grab bag of ecosystems that range from wetlands, grassy balds, and spruce forests to cove hardwoods and the only remaining old growth forest east of the Mississippi.

No wonder this is America’s most visited national park.