Mystery Lights of Marfa, Texas

Simin Bhayani and Pooja Gaikwad - 2nd period

General History of The Marfa Lights

The Marfa lights are visible every clear night between Marfa and Paisano Pass in northeastern Presidio County as one faces the Chinati Mountains. Sometimes they will be presented with colors as they glow in the distance. They move here and there, they split apart, disappear and they will reappear. Presidio County residents have seen the lights for over a hundred years. The first record in history recalled that in 1883, a young cowhand, Robert Reed Ellison, saw a flashing of light while he was driving cattle through Paisano Pass and wondered if it was the campfire of Apache Indians. He was told by the settlers that they often saw the lights, but when they inspected, they found no ashes or other evidence of a campsite. Joe and Sally Humphreys, also early settlers, reported their first sighting of the Marfa lights in 1885. Cowboys herding cattle on the prairies noticed the lights and in the summer of 1919 and rode he over the mountains looking for the source, but he did not find anything (1). World War I observers feared that the lights were intended to guide an invasion. During World War II pilots training at the nearby Midland Army Air Field outside Marfa looked for the source of the ambiguous lights from the air, again with no success.
Those who have seen the lights over a long period personify them and insist that they are not only harmless but friendly. Mrs. W. T. Giddings, who grew up watching the lights and whose father claimed he was rescued from a blizzard when the lights led him to the shelter of a cave, considers the lights to be curious observers, investigating things around them. Over the years many explanations for the lights have been offered, ranging from an electrostatic discharge, swamp gas, or moonlight shining on veins of mica, to ghosts of conquistadors looking for gold. The most plausible explanation is that the lights are an unusual phenomenon similar to a mirage, caused by an atmospheric condition produced by the interaction of cold and warm layers of air that bend light so that it is seen from a distance but not up close. In recent years the lights have become a tourist attraction. (2)

What is So Mysterious?

The Marfa Lights are named for their location because they are near the town of Marfa, Texas. Marfa is a small ranching area on a Chihuahuan Desert plateau in the Trans-Pecos area of west Texas. Supported mostly by ranching, and more recently by tourism, it is surrounded by mountains and is Texas' highest incorporated city. Marfa is known primarily for its famous Marfa Mystery Lights. (4) The Ghost lights of Marfa still glow as bright as ever, and are still as mysterious and weird as they were when they were first seen by early settlers who drove their herds into the Marfa area in 1883. Who can explain their source? Where are they actually located? How long have they been in existence? (4)

The mystery is no closer to being solved now than when they were first seen. Robert Ellison came to Marfa in 1883 and off-loaded his cattle in Alpine. He then drove the herd west and on the second night out, while camped just outside Paisano Pass, he saw strange lights in the distance. At first, it was feared that they were Apache signal fires. Mr. Ellison searched the countryside by horseback. He finally realized that the lights were not man-made. Other early settlers assured him that they too had seen the lights and had never been able to identify them. The Marfa Lights are reported to be from 1-10 feet in diameter. They are spherical and reddish-orange in color. They have been observed to vary their size and fly at high speeds. Numerous photographs and video footage have captured these lights in action. (5)

Some Pictures of the Lights

Guaranteed to make you smile!

Theories and/or Explanations

The Marfa Lights are mysterious glowing lights that appear in the West part of Texas. According to several eyewitnesses, the lights are roughly the sizes of basketballs and are said to be white, yellow, blue, orange, red, or other colors. There seems to be no way to predict when the lights will appear. They have been seen in various types of weather, rain or shine, but only a dozen or so nights each year. The mysterious thing is that nobody even knows if they exist at all or what they are.

Several paranormal investigators have arrived in Texas and came up with various conclusions, such as space aliens and wandering ghosts of Spanish conquistadors. There have also been attempts at scientific reasons as to what the lights are and why they appear. A group of psychics from the University of Texas drew the conclusion that some of the Marfa Lights sightings could have been headlights of cars that were going down US Highway 67.

Another possible explanation could be the reflection of the lights caused by the layers of the air when it is at different temperatures. This optical illusion is sometimes called the “Fata Morgana”. This is sometimes seen in oceans, and it causes ships to appear to float above the water. (3)