The Mystery Lights of Marfa, Texas

A Texas travel tale in time for Halloween

By Jennifer Taylor – Special to the Navarro County Gazette

It’s October, the month of the unknown, spooky, and supernatural. Being a newcomer to Texas, I looked up Texas urban legends and a state this big has plenty to offer. My first stop takes me to Highway 90, nine miles from Marfa in West Texas.

Wait until it’s late, pull on to the shoulder, turn off the car, and wait in the quiet nighttime silence. You may see mysterious light orbs of all colors appear over the desert. These – sometimes stationary – lights pulse with dim to blinding glare as if communicating to humans in Morse Code. What they do after depends on the night. They may dart across the desert, split, or merge with another light with the color choice appearing random.

The most plausible explanation states they’re headlights from cars on another highway or aircraft, and surely some Marfa lights were distant cars. However, the first reports come from 1883, way before the invention. Flickering campfires from Apache Indians were the assumptions, yet there were no ashes or campsites when investigated the next day. The next sighting took place two years later in 1885, confusing Joe and Anne Humphreys, and continued well into the modern age. So what could they be if not electric or campfires?

Extreme temperature changes have been suggested with a mirage effect between hot and cold air. Different parts of Marfa experience differences of up to fifty degrees. Much like seeing a dark ‘puddle’ on the road during a hot day and then have it disappear, it could explain the lights as hot and cold air simply overlapping to produce a light effect. While possible, scientists haven’t proven this as the cause, and others have ruled out headlights leaving no clear, definite answer.

Other scientific options, suggestions include ball-lighting, static electricity, gas build-up, and even glints off metal laying in the ground. Yet none have proven, only what might cause it, thus sending seekers to other explanations not found in most classrooms.

The more romantic visitors and residents say they’re the souls of the dead Spanish Conquistadors and other early settlers. Like people, these glowing souls exhibited different behavior. Some lights have followed trucks through the nighttime sky, while hikers claimed lights leading them to caves for shelter saved them. While nobody can agree on what they are for sure, many have stated they felt helpful, even friendly, while others sensed someone or something observed them.

The fact that it’s four hours from Roswell, New Mexico – a sign of a supposed UFO crash, is surely just a coincidence.

No matter the cause, the lights add to an artist town by bringing in more tourists via the Marfa Lights Festival, celebrated around the Labor Day Weekend around the Historic Presidio County Courthouse.

The Festival starts Friday night with the Marfa Lights Night Parade. On Saturday morning, another parade begins late morning and travels through town. Each evening there is a music event making the end of a Marfa Summer a huge party.

If you’re lucky, you might get a light show with it.

Categories: Travel