Italy, Day 11 by Josh Trudell

Pathway-3 Where do they go?

They go up…and up…and up.

Rousing ourselves, we fueled up with another wonderful breakfast from Luigi’s kitchen and made our way to the center of Praiano, where we began climbing the steps up to the Sentiero Degli Dei – the Pathway of the Gods.

The trail runs from Bomerano to Positano – starting from Praiano, we were roughly in the middle. If we had taken the bus to Bomerano to start, we would have had an easier starting point and walked longer, but we opted for the many, many stairs – at least 1,900, by some accounts - up to the trail from the Praiano city center.

If every Stairmaster has these views, they would be a lot more popular. Looking up and down the coast, we could see for miles – clouds swarming over a mountain to the north, waves crashing on the coastline, sunlit seaside villages to the south.

Pathway-2If you have an issue with heights or vertigo, this hike could be a challenge. The trail isn’t much more than a goat path – with actual goats – in spots. The four-legged friends (with an occasional shepherd) hung around the trail, munching on grass as we passed by.

Able to look straight down in spots, we could see cars winding along the twisty coastal road far below. There are occasionally wooden rails in place, but more often not.

The trail winds past a couple of monasteries in mixed repair – one seemed to be open, while another was shuttered. Most signs of man were smaller, though, especially looking up the hills – the ruins of a stone house on a high meadow, or a trailside shrine built into a small cave.

As we walked, the wind and rain caught up to us briefly, but luckily not long enough to be soaking or dangerous.

By the time we reached Positano, our feet were sore from the rocky hike. The 1,600 steps from the trail down to the road, while wider and easier than the hike up, were still challenging. We were happy to call Luigi (which he told us to do before we left) and he came to pick us up.

Sore feet or not, if someone asks you to hike the Pathway of the Gods…you say yes.

Big Bend VI - Shaking the Dust From Our Boots... by Josh Trudell

Just in case you didn’t know what you wanted for Christmas – this fine item is available, posted on the wall of a store in Terlingua. Congratulations to the couple who got engaged at the top of the Lost Mine trail while we were hiking. We saw them coming down, and they looked gloriously happy.

Thank you, again, to FedEx and SuperFriend Dana, who saved my bacon.

Hey, gas station guy – you might want to try civilization for a while. You’ve spent a little too much time in the company of your own thoughts.

How big are tarantulas? Big enough that when you’re driving 60 mph on the highway, you can see them crossing the road. Think about that.

The kids on our rafting trip were a lot of fun – but I’m glad I didn’t have to drive them home. Mud EVERYWHERE.

Okay, lady – we get it, you wanted to go to Santa Elena Canyon. We all did. But after the sights and extra time we got on Colorado Canyon, you can’t think we got a bad deal. Oh wait…you still do.

“Planting a flag” in Mexico is definitely a euphemism. Thankfully, not one I had to endure.

I can’t wait to go back and have breakfast at India’s Café again.

Hearing the stories from the river guides about bureaucratic border nonsense makes me want to bang my head against a wall. Or a margarita.

One of the prettiest sunrises I’ve seen was an early morning at the Chisos Mountain Lodge. Glorious.

The tug-of-war rages – with this jewel of a park, I want the Big Bend area to succeed. But if they become too successful, the area could lose the remoteness that makes it special.

The walls of Santa Elena Canyon could double for the Wall in Game of Thrones – without the ice.

Big Bend V - It's getting dark out here... by Josh Trudell

One important lesson was reinforced during our hiking trips in Big Bend – always ask the park rangers before you believe any printed material. According to our guidebook, Balanced Rock was an easy hike. And the flyers in our room claimed it is a wonderful place to watch the sunset.

Um, no...and oh wait. No.

With the sun heading toward the horizon, we bounced over six miles of rutted road, headed for the trailhead. The rented SUV proved its worth here - my gas-efficient Matchbox car would have been beached more than once.

We pulled into the parking lot to find a trail leading through a narrow valley, with steep hillsides already growing dark.

It was our last night in the park, so we started double-timing it along the trail, hoping to catch the sunset. Hustling along the trail, which switched from gravel to sand and back again, we reached what looked like the end.

Or not.

A small arrow pointed us up a rock wall to a goat path of rock outcroppings. Stretching and reaching from one spot to the next, we monkeyed up the path, winding our way across the rock on little more than a hiking boot's width in spots.

After about 15 minutes of this, with the light dimming all the while, we reached Balanced Rock. The rock is balanced on two other boulders, and the mountain rises behind it.

On the west side.

Where the sunset was.

We had a nice view to the east, and in 12 hours, it would be a lovely sunrise. And if we stayed out there all night, we'd be rattlesnake snacks.

So down the hill we went, feeling our way along in the quickening dark from rock step to rock step. Finally, we got to the bottom and trudged back to the car in the dark. One turn nearly led us out into the desert, but we made it back without any mishaps.

A much more relaxed and pleasant hike was up the Lost Mine trail. The trail, starting from the road leading to the Chisos Mountain Lodge, winds up into the mountains encircling the lodge.

It's a walk with a little challenge to it - the mountains are steep and there is altitude - but it was a gorgeous day. Recent rainfall had the mountainsides covered in yellow blooms.

There are benches along the path, and you can stop anywhere along the second half of the trail for gorgeous views of Casa Grande - a huge rock formation looming over the surrounding hills.

The cool breeze at the top felt like it came straight from the Rocky Mountains. The trail immediately leapt into my top five hikes I've been on in Texas.

Next up - a few odds and ends...