Seven miles east of Marfa, surreal lights attributed to UFOs, will-o-the-wisps, or the reflections of car lights and camp fires have been sited along a portion of the desert often between 2 and 3 AM. So, people camp out at a conveniently located rest stop, hoping to have their own illuminating experience.
Ghost Lights, Weird Lights, Mystery Lights, or Chinati Lights
Anyone’s odds of seeing the Marfa Lights are around 5.25 out of the 365 nights of the year. Yet, people will take those odds on the chance that they can have their own close encounter. Stories of the Marfa lights have been attributed to the 1800s, but the first written observation was published in the July 1957 issue of Coronet magazine. Not to be outdone, there have since been 34 recorded sitings of the Marfa Lights from 1945 through 2008. James Bunnell, who has been keeping this running tally, describes the lights:
You might just see mysterious orbs of light suddenly appear above desert foliage. These balls of light may remain stationary as they pulse on and off with intensity varying from dim to almost blinding brilliance. Then again, these ghostly lights may dart across the desert…or perform splits and mergers. Light colors are usually yellow-orange but other hues, including green, blue and red are also seen. Marfa Mystery Lights (MLs) usually fly above desert vegetation but below background mesas.
Texas State University and the Society of Physics Students ran separate studies of the Marfa Lights. Each attributed the etherial orbs to headlights traveling the US 67, south of Marfa. The Society of Physics Students went so far are to create their own lights by driving a car along 67 to test how the lights were perceived from the viewing stations along highway 90. Now, if only I could have gotten their notes so I could have set up my own lights.
Sleeping At A Rest Stop
As truck campers, we are leery of sleeping at rest stops. Sure, people do it. But sleeping over night is illegal in many locations. So we asked several times—rephrasing the question to be clear. In conclusion: it is ok to sleep at the rest stop outside of Marfa.
Then again, it makes sense to let us sleep at the rest stop. How else are people supposed to be in position at 3AM to see the Marfa Lights? And if there isn’t some way to do so, what tourist money is not being spent at local Marfa restaurants and shops? We did our part: we bought a package of macaroni and cheese along with a bottle of wine. We didn’t expect to confirm contact with another world, but we did intend to enjoy ourselves while trying.*
Shooting For The Stars
With the sunset, the night sky emerged in brilliant contrast. It was time for another night shoot.
I remain shocked at how cold it can be in a Texas desert. Granted, it is mid February at a 4,685 foot elevation, but one doesn’t quite process that fact while dodging incessant tumbleweeds. Yet, by the time I returned to the truck from photographing stars, trees, and a decided lack of unexplained lights, my fingers were numb and my arms shook. It was time to huddle under a pile of blankets and pretend it isn’t freezing outside.
*Despite owning many seasons of The X-Files, I am no “Spooky Mulder.”