The Lights at Night, Are Big & Bright
Some say the lights are nothing more than static electricity. The native Apache believed they were stars fallen to Earth. Other folks say they’re the result of swamp gas, ball lightning, UFOs, secret military weapons, St. Elmo’s fire, or distant headlights reflecting off layers of warm air. The mystery may never be solved, but everyone who sees the famous Marfa lights swears that a view of these enigmatic glowing orbs, floating in the night above the desert floor, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that’s sure to raise the hair on the back of your neck. People have come from all over the world to see and study this luminous phenomenon, and nobody has yet developed a universally accepted explanation.
The Marfa lights are seen in an isolated, rural area of west Texas near the intersection of U.S. Highways 67 and 90. Similar lights have been reported throughout the region, but the greatest numbers of reported sightings occur here, between the towns of Marfa, Alpine, and Presidio. There is an “official” viewing platform on U.S. Highway 90, just east of the Highway 67 junction. Though the lights seem to occur in any kind of weather and regardless of the season, they have been witnessed only at night. Visitors to the area should be aware that temperatures can drop precipitously in the desert at night, even after a hot day; jackets or coats are recommended year-round.
First reported in 1883 by a settler named Robert Ellison, the lights are usually described as white, red, yellow, or orange globes, roughly the size of a basketball, that float about 5 or 6 feet (1.5–1.8m) above the ground. Though they have never been seen close-up, they are said to appear in pairs or groups, floating, merging, disappearing, then reappearing in a mysterious nighttime dance. The otherworldly lights, which seem to appear unpredictably throughout the year, may last from just a second or two to several hours, according to reports.
If you happen to see the lights one night, head into the town of Marfa (www.marfacc.com) to share your story with the residents of this quirky town. Once a ranching center on the Texas and New Orleans Railroad, in recent years the area has become a major player in the international arts scene, with Donald Judd and other renowned artists setting up studios here. Adventure seekers will note that the region is close to 800,000 acres (32,375 hectares) of wilderness at Big Bend National Park, including the Rio Grande River (www.nps.gov/bibe), and glider lessons that take advantage of the region’s warm desert air thermals are available at the Marfa Municipal Airport (www.flygliders.com). —ML
Marfa, TX Chamber of Commerce, 207 N. Highland Ave. ( 800/650-9696 or 432/729-4942; www.marfacc.com).
When to Go: The lights can be seen year-round; the Marfa Lights Festival occurs each Sept.
El Paso (194 miles/312km).