'A prince wanted to marry the princess of the Moon, but the young maiden would not resign herself to leaving her gleaming white home to live among the gloomy gray rock faces of the mountains of Earth. But then some industrious gnomes came to the rescue of the two lovers: in a single night the little creatures spun moonbeams and spread them out like a silvery blanket over pinnacles and peaks, ravines, and cliffs. Enraptured, the princess married her beloved and came to live on Earth. Thus were born the Dolomites, which since time immemorial have also been known as the Monti pallidi (Pale Mountains).
The history of these magnificent peaks goes back hundreds of millions of years. In the abyssal depths of the first oceans, there accumulated an incalculable number of organisms, algae, and coral rich in calcium salts and magnesium. In the 18th century the geologist Dieudonne Gratet de Dolomieu accurately described the sedimentary rock whose origins lay in this gigantic submarine cemetery - vestiges of which are still to be found in the form of fossils - thus guaranteeing his place and name in history.
Pushed up from the depths, the rocks once lapped by the waters have become cliff faces, the towers eroded by wind and rain have been carved into curious shapes, the detritus carried away by the elements has accumulated to form boundless stretches of scree, small rocks, and sand that collect to form fan-like configurations at the base of cliffs.
Bounded approximately by the rivers Adige, Brenta, Piave, and Renza, the Dolomites lie between the Veneto and the Trentino-Alto Adige regions. They are not a single bloc, but are broken up into many groups and sub-groups. The best known of these are the Tofane, the Pale di San Martino, the Civetta, the Catinaccio, and the Sella, Pordoi, Brenta, and Sassolungo groups. The highest peak in the Marmolada (more than 10,000 feet), whose northern face is covered by the largest glacier in the Dolomites.
At the foot of the rocks, a paradise for mountain climbers, lie manicured pastures and vast conifer forests; hikers will find no lack of paths, vie ferrate (iron steps), and high climbing trails. And, in winter, the white rocks are enhanced by the ski slopes, a vast network of multiple connections that makes the Dolomites a skiing paradise. Cortina d'Ampezzo, nestling between the Tofane and the Cristallo, is a superb and fashionable spot, much favoured by the international jet set.
At sunset, as the rays of the dying sun cast a warm reddish hue over the peaks, residents might recall a local legend. Laurino, the king of the dwarfs, disappointed in love, put a curse on the roses in his garden, transforming them into stone by day and by night. But at sunset, which is no longer day and not yet night, the magical rose garden blooms again.'
from The Best Travel Writing from The New York Times: Italy