We ventured deep in the heart of Texas with an eye on viewing the legendary Marfa Lights, hoping to see the mysterious ghost lights from the official viewing area built by the nearby city of Marfa.
As a bonus, the area allows overnight parking for hardy paranormal activity seekers’ RVs.
We pulled in at sundown and found a spot overlooking the famous field where the illuminations are said to appear. After looking around, checking the horizon for possible sources of light and reading the markers explaining the phenomenon, we put some dinner on the stove, cracked open some vino and waited.
The first public account of the spook lights was in the July 1957 issue of Coronet Magazine, but the article claimed that they had been reported as far back as the 1800s.
People have described them as glowing spheres floating above the ground or high in the air. They can vary in color from white to yellow, orange or red and zip around in a strange manner, sometimes merging into each other or splitting apart to form new balls.
They are known to hover, or shoot around at high speed and disappear and reappear. We were very excited, but knew our chances might be limited since reports say that they only materialize about twenty times a year and seem to be completely unpredictable.
As dusk fell, we stood at the viewing platform scanning the horizon but spotted nothing unusual.
There were some lights that seemed to float off in the distance, but these were headlights of vehicles coming down a hill on U.S. Highway 67, which many skeptics say are the source of most of the claimed sightings. We weren’t falling for those, we wanted basketball-sized dancing orbs to show themselves.
After half an hour or so of wary watching, we began to get a bit chilly and decided to continue our observations from the comfort of BAMF. Through the window behind the couch, we kept an eye out for floating, glowing blobs but saw nothing but darkness.
As our interest faded, I decided that a cheesy horror movie might help the mood. Lucky for us I had found “Attack Of The Monsters” in the dollar bin at a Wal-Mart a few days earlier. Perfect.
“Attack” is a classic film from the Japanese Kaiju genre where Gamera, the jet powered flying turtle protector of all children, must save a couple kids from both brain-eating alien babes and Guiron, a knife headed dino-monster.
It turned out to be a strong contender for the worst movie ever made. I highly recommend it. Really, with great dialogue like “You’re right, we’ll eat their brains after we’ve fixed the ship,” it is so bad its good.
Veronica couldn’t take it and crawled up into the loft to catch some z’s, she’s simply not the connoisseur of bad cinema that I am. I was determined to see this stinker through, but at some point, while men in rubber monster suits did ferocious battle, I nodded off. When I came to, I saw a light outside the window.
Was I dreaming? Have I talked myself into seeing things? I watched for awhile. It wasn’t moving, but it seemed awfully close and I was positive it wasn’t there earlier. I woke up Veronica with a friendly little Poltergeist-esque “They’re here.”
She was half asleep and fully scared out of her mind, but agreed that the light hadn’t been there before so… that was it for sleep that night.
In the light of day we discussed our encounter and decided to rate it a ” definite maybe.” Our attempted photos just looked like darkness but we were sure we had seen something.
We needed to return for more research, but in the meantime, wanted to check out a couple other nearby attractions, The Davis Mountains and The McDonald Observatory. Base camp for these would be Davis Mountain State Park, just a few miles up from the town of Marfa.
The state park sports some serious mountain bike trails, wonderful views of the high desert and most importantly, lots of Javelinas. After an aborted attempt at riding a rock-strewn trail on our trusty two wheelers, we decided to explore the park via paved roads.
Along the way we spotted a pig-like animal in the brush. We didn’t get a good look, but it was definitely the fabled Javelina. A New World Pig sometimes known as a Musk Hog, which is really not a pig at all, but a Collared Peccary.
This was even more exciting than a maybe vision of a paranormal light, but it was going to get better. At dusk, as we headed up the mountain to the observatory, we encountered a whole herd of the buggers. Javelina are social animals that like to hang out in groups of a dozen or more.
We jumped out of BAMF for a closer look as the peccaries groveled around for some grub. Later we were informed that Javelinas, when in a group, have been known to turn nasty on humans. Luckily for us, ours were friendly skunk pigs.
The McDonald Observatory has telescopes perched high and dry atop 6,791 foot Mount Fowlkes and 6,659 foot Mount Locke. The location makes for some dark, clear night skies, excellent for astronomical observations.
We crashed, after calling ahead for reservations, one of their triweekly star parties, where in addition to an introduction to the observatory, we were treated to views through several telescopes. Awesome images of the Moon, Jupiter and, coolest of all, the Orion Nebula where new stars are constantly forming.
All of these celestial sights got us thinking about the Marfa lights again. We wanted more, needed to know for sure we had seen something. The following evening we returned to our spot and waited anxiously.
This time, being the weekend, there were more people around, so we chatted with a few of the other curiosity seekers. We conversed and waited with several first time visitors, then a couple of old hands stopped by.
These two explained how they stopped here every time they were headed to a bar up the road in Alpine. They had clearly partaken of some mind altering substances.
“Dude, look at that!” And there they were. The Marfa Lights.
The stoners took it upon themselves to convince us that the lights could not be headlights or folks a hoaxin’. We have to admit the whole show was pretty eerie.
Some skeptics theorize that the source of the lights is a mirage caused by sharp temperature gradients between the cold and warm layers of air, citing that Marfa is at an altitude of 4,688 feet and temperatures easily vary 50-60 degrees from high and low. Others point to cars, campfires or ranches as possibilities.
A four-night study by UT Dallas students focused on headlights and reached the conclusion that vehicle lights do look mysterious to many visitors, especially with the help of some wacky weed. Sorry, we just threw in that last part, but it would seem that many Marfa Lights observations can be dismissed as auto headlights.
Another study conducted in May of 2008, lasted twenty nights. Scientists from Texas State University found that a number of the mysterious lights “could have been mistaken for lights of unknown origin,” but in each case the data from their equipment showed the movements of the lights could be easily explained as automobile headlights, or small fires.
The researchers did stress their study did not disprove the existence of the Marfa Lights, only that the lights that appeared during those twenty nights could be fully explained.
We left feeling basically the same way. It’s hard to wrap a brain around a strange light in the pitch darkness, it’s just too creepy and weird.
The West Texas weirdness wasn’t through with us yet – the tests of our senses of reality didn’t end as we drove off into the desert.
Was that actually a Prada store out in the very center of nowhere? We wheeled around to have better look. It WAS a Prada and it IS truly in the middle of nowhere.
Turns out “Prada Marfa” is the work of artists Elmgreen and Dragset. A “pop architectural land art project,” as it were.
There really is no telling what we’ll see next out here.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
8 thoughts on “Marfa My Dear”
Well this sure put a smile on my face… ha! Especially the movie. For some reason my mom buys these cheesy movies for my kids who always turn them over to me and I always put them on swap-a-dvd and some crazy always gets them… Was just in SW Texas on the gulf. The next time I visit my brother I’ll have to ask him about these amazing orbs flying in the air 🙂
We saw the Marfa lights in May 1986. We were truly fortunate. They were numerous, they were big, they were like large round beach balls of different colors, bouncing, darting, and disappearing all over that field. I can’t believe how lucky we were. Just saw on a TV program yesterday that the odds of seeing them are only 3%. We were on a camping trip to Big Bend (fabulous), stayed at Indian Lodge one night (again, fabulous), looked around in Ft. Davis (love it) and stopped in Marfa to see the lights. Drove up to the viewing area and there they were, right on schedule. Wonderful experience!
Very cool! Our experience wasn’t nearly so explicit. Just one light that we saw seemed like it was from some source other than cars on the distant highway, still it was an interesting experience for us and we will certainly stop again if we pass that way.
Having heard of the Marfa lights all my life, I feel like I’ve now been there, thanks to you! Cool write!
I always love reading the impression of visitors’ reactions to West Texas, particularly the Alpine, Marfa, Fort Davis ones. I first went there as a little girl and wound up marrying a man from Ft. Davis. We get out there several times a year to visit family, so it’s like home to me. Marfa has changed so much in the last 10 years or so; I know it has a certain upper-crust Santa Fe vibe now. I miss old-school Marfa. Fort Davis is by far my favorite small town in Texas and I’ve been to hundreds of them.
We loved the area Leah. Not sure what we saw were the actual lights though… I think they may have been headlights from the highway across the valley. Although something showed up in the middle of the night that we didn’t get a picture of that sure wasn’t a car.
I never heard of the Marfa lights and I live in Dallas. I'd love to see them!
My daughter met one of these lovely creatures up close and personal recently. It ran smack into the side of her brand new car!