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Way back in the Middle Ages, a mysterious fire started on the ridgeline south of Spirkelbach, Germany.

It was dark out, and the men were too tired, too tipsy or too scared to check it out themselves. So a couple of boys were sent scrambling up the steep slope of tree-covered sandstone to investigate.

The old stories don’t say what happened to the lads, but what they saw atop that spine of red rock has lived on in local lore. It was, they say, the devil.

Some towns might view a visit by Satan as a major tourism killer, a sort of metaphysical Chernobyl that would keep potential visitors away. Back in the days when pillaging was a popular career in Europe, that’s probably just what the good folks of Spirkelbach had in mind.

These days, though, Lucifer is a regular in movies and on television. Delectable eggs, processed ham and cartoon characters owe their names to him. He has his own snack cake, the Devil Dog, which doubles as a kick-ass nickname for U.S. Marines.

In other words, Satan now is less a scary demon than a sly marketing tool.

That’s good news for Spirkelbach, because it would otherwise be pretty hard to sell Höllenberg, or Hell Mountain, as a tourist destination.

Shaped like a hooked finger, the mountain is perhaps the town’s best selling point. The remnant of river-lain sandstone is crisscrossed by trails and dotted with scenic vistas that provide amazing views of the town and its valley neighbors.

Spirkelbach’s annual Höllenberg Trail Trophy takes runners on a route that largely follows the well-marked Höllenberg Tour.

The race is held in the spring, but with fall settling in, the views along the trail are sure to be even more spectacular.

The trail starts out on an unimpressive stretch through recently logged woods and past the town Sportplatz. From there, though, the trail banks toward the mountain, taking hikers through tall pine forests, stands of young beech and natural monoliths of the area’s striated red sandstone.

Scenic overlooks and benches along and just off the main route are worth the diversion.

The trail along the spine is undulating and features a handful of steeper climbs. The trees here grow big, and bright green moss covers nearly every rock, contrasting beautifully with the dried brown leaves that litter the forest floor.

Dozens of cairns and directional stones line the path to point the way, augmenting the red and white devil-head trail markers on rocks, trees and signposts.

Occasionally the dense forest closes in, creating a spooky atmosphere. This feeling peaks at the end of the last climb, which finishes at a dark cabin with a derelict fire ring. Just beyond, the mountain appears split in two. On one side of the trail, the foliage is lush and green. On the other, a dense web of standing dead pine limbs and twigs gives the illusion of a malignant fog.

But the devil never shows his face. The legend might have been concocted to keep outsiders away. But that’s probably only because the locals of days gone by wanted to keep the beauty here for themselves.

millham.matthew@stripes.com Twitter: @mattmillham

DIRECTIONS: Spirkelbach is about 25 miles south of Kaiserslautern. The Google Maps coordinates of the trailhead are 49.196457, 7.888323.

TIMES: Open year-round.

FOOD: Bring your own for the trail. Afterward, head less than a half mile north of town to Wilgartswiesen, which has a half dozen restaurants from which to choose.

INFORMATION: Visit wanderportal-pfalz.de/SN_Praed.htm and click on the Höllenberg Tour, where you’ll find a rough map. A better map can be found at the trailhead, but the trail is well marked along the way.

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