the Marfa lights – a west Texas mystery

the Marfa lights – a west Texas mystery

We first became aware of this phenomenon when we stayed in the small town of Marfa while on holiday 20 years ago in July, 1993.  We had flown into El Paso late on a Sunday afternoon, and rented a car to drive (over several days) a large loop that would take us to 3 remote, but beautiful, national parks (Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains, and Carlsbad Caverns).  Before landing in El Paso we had already advanced into Mountain Time Zone, and then shortly after beginning our drive to Marfa we crossed into Central Time Zone (six hours behind London/Greenwich).

Marfa being a good distance from El Paso and about as far as we could comfortably drive before darkness fell, we stayed in a motel there.  After checking in and then having dinner, we drove out a few miles east of town as I recall and parked the car on the side of the highway.  (This is highway 90, south of the more heavily trafficked US Interstate 10.)  The 3 of us got out and stood off the highway and looked into the darkness in different directions.  There were others at distances doing the same as us – watching for the “lights”.

It is no accident that many of the highways in the western states of the US are located very close to railroads, in some locales within only dozens of yards (meters).  The railroads were built before the advent of the automobile.  Thus, what we think of as highway towns were really railroad towns originally.  The Southern Pacific mainline (from Los Angeles to New Orleans) was just north of the highway.  We did see a couple of freight trains come by in the darkness with their front end headlamps on and visible from a distance.  After a while, we got tired after our long day of travel and drove back to the motel.  Our son, Thomas, said that he thought he had seen some lights or a light in the distance, but he could not be sure.  This was the time of the year that west Texas gets a few thunder storms and there may have been lightning in the distance.  (We had seen the recent puddles of water in the gravel parking area of the motel when we got our room.)

What do I remember most about this small town in this nearly uninhabited part of Texas? The mosquitoes.  Before going to sleep, I had to go about the entire motel room swatting to kill as many as I could from the walls and ceiling.  Yes, I stood up on the beds to reach the ceiling.  After much effort, we retired for the night.  In the morning, we awoke with only a couple of bites.

There were Native American Indian tribes in this part of Texas prior to the coming of the white man.  There are oral traditions among some of these groups telling of these lights in the night sky in this area.

So what are the possible explanations for these lights that are put forth?

Ghost or poltergeist activity.  The Indians thought the lights were the restless spirits of the dead.

Collective hallucination or collective suggestion.  These lights have been seen by the white man for more than one hundred years (since at least 1883) and by many different solitary individuals over the years.

Bizarre electro-magnetic discharges in the visible wavelengths.  What might cause such discharges is a mystery.  The lights are round in shape and do not behave like the auroras seen at high latitudes.

Alien or extraterrestrial UFO activity.  Why only here?  (Marfa, Texas is south of Roswell, New Mexico (of UFO fame) by more than two hundred miles.)

Swamp gas – but the land we passed through in far western Texas was a desert, not like swamps in Louisiana or Florida.

Automobile headlights seen from a distance.  This “explanation” is laughable.  First, as above, the Native Americans saw thees lights long before either the white man or the automobile made their appearance in this region.  Second, why do we not hear of reports of similar type sightings of lights elsewhere in the desert Southwest?  There are many highways in these western states where headlights can be seen at great distances in the dark of night.  For example, here in my home state of Nevada, there is what is called basin and range topography.  Many of the lonely state highways run east-west.  Many of the mountain ranges stretch north to south.  Thus, when you drive these roads, you are frequently cresting a summit and then for miles descending gradually to a basin, and shortly thereafter your car is ascending to the next summit (of another mountain range) in the distance.  During daylight – especially early in the day – this is a sight to see.  The Great Basin desert, as barren as it can be, still possesses a beauty to it.  At night, one can see the infrequent car in the distance by its headlamps.  It is very difficult to judge the distance in the desert in the dark.  But, you do not mistake automobile lights for the mysterious lights in the sky such as are seen near Marfa.

Perhaps the lights are a beacon marking a portal to another dimension where intelligent “entities” may be encountered.  That is an idea for a work of speculative fiction.  Perhaps, the lights are themselves living entities of some kind (energy beings?).  Frontiers of belief!

Here are 3 links for additional information.  You be the judge.

This next link is to a short essay with a few pictures.

New readers may be interested in these 2 previous essays (that include some photos).

Best wishes to all.

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