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The Marfa Lights: My Eyewitness Account

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posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 10:18 PM
There are stories we all run across during our impressionable youth that stick with us throughout the years. Those unexplained mysteries rank right up there for the mere fact that the unknown is simply fascinating. The thought of phenomena that defies conventional logic or wisdom is enough to fire up our imagination.

For me, that legend was the Marfa Lights.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I took the kids to the west Texas mountains for Spring break. We hiked, climbed and went horseback riding through the Davis Mountains. Since we were already in the area, we decided to take a side trip south to Marfa to check out the renown ghost lights.

Marfa, Texas

To say that Marfa is both a quaint, yet quirky town is an understatement. The place is small, dusty and located at the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert. It boasts a population of 2121, but I bet more than a good quarter of those are transplants from the hipster crowd that have decided to make this place an international artisan Mecca.

Seriously, one can enjoy fine European cuisine at the highly-acclaimed Cochineal or chow down on a greasy burger and fries at the local Dairy Queen down the street. (I've eaten at both places and that in itself is a crazy little side story.) It's a strange juxtaposition to be found smack dab in the middle of damn nowhere.

So, for the lay of the land. As I mentioned, Marfa is located in the flat lands of the Chihuahuan Desert not to terribly far from the Mexican border. To the immediate north about twenty or so miles are the Davis Mountains. The Chinati Mountains are roughly 45 miles to the southwest, and finally, the Big Bend region is about 100 miles to the south.

It's also worth mentioning that the McDonald Observatory is located just north in the Davis Mountains. There are light pollution protocols that are tightly adhered to, so the surrounding area including Marfa is incredibly dark at night. It makes for great viewing.

The Legend

According to local legend, the ghost lights have allegedly been witnessed for hundreds of years by the Apache Indians who considered them to be "fallen stars" before finding its way to modern American lore.

In 1883, in the fields near Marfa, Texas, cattle was being herded by the thousands, and one night, Robert Ellison, a cow hand noticed something strange in the distance. It was a strange light hovering a few feet above the ground, a few miles away. His daughter claimed that they thought that it was a campfire, Indians, or other travelers, until they kept seeing it several times within the next few years. In 1916, eighteen-year-old Hallie Stilwell was coming to Marfa for business when they were driving and saw lights on a nearby mountain range. They first thought it was a campfire, or Indians, or ranchers, until it started moving strangely, and they soon believed that it was "ghost lights".

Source: Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

As with many myths and legends, most accounts are anecdotal. The first published account of the lights doesn't appear until the late 1950s.

One man, Michael Hall, wrote an incredibly detailed account of his own research and experience with the ghost lights for Texas Monthly. It's a great read and one I highly recommend.

If Cox’s grandfather didn’t actually write about the lights, the state of Texas said that Clayton Williams’s grandfather did, so I called the ex-politician to ask about it. He explained that O. W. Williams was a former lawyer who had become a surveyor in the Terlingua area in the 1880’s. “He had a Mexican guide named Juan Cano,” said Williams, who donated ten acres of land for the viewing center, “and he told my grandfather stories by the campfire that the Indians had told the Mexicans, including one about the Marfa lights. The Indians called them Alsate’s Ghost, for the Apache chief who had been killed by the Mexicans. My grandfather wrote a lot of stories—Indian stories as told to Mexicans, who told my grandfather. He saw the lights too, but I don’t think he ever wrote down his observations. But he told me about seeing them.”

Source: Texas Monthly, June 2006

My Eyewitness Account

A little background info: The viewing platform faces south with the Chinati Mountains off to the southwest. It's located on Highway 90 about eight miles east of town. Out in the distance, Highway 67 runs northeast to southwest through Marfa towards Presidio on the Mexican border. There is a low sitting radio beacon with a flashing red light southwest of the platform slightly to the left at the forefront of the mountains. I have no idea how far the beacon is set in the distance. My impression is that it's between the town and viewing platform, so perhaps two to four miles -- possibly, less.

We witnessed the event on March 16th. It was a bright, clear day with temperatures reaching an afternoon high of 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun set at approximately seven o'clock with twilight in full swing thirty minutes later. The temperature then dropped down to roughly 55 degrees.

Our little family drove into town during the late afternoon. After checking out the area for a bit, we headed to the officially-sanctioned roadside viewing platform (Cool, right?!) to check out the ghost lights first hand. It was still sunny when we got there at six o'clock. There was an RV and a couple of cars at the place, but other than that it was pretty much empty. So, we took a few minutes to get a good look around, then caved in to the kids whining for milkshakes. After a quick run back into town for a bite at the local DQ, we arrived back at the viewing station less than hour later to find it jam packed with well over a hundred people wanting to get their "woo" on. Needless to say, this was a collective experience.

The desert sunset was simply stunning. Twilight settled in when the magic started. As we looked across the flatlands towards the Chinati Mountains, an orange light flickered into the center of a field to the right of the radio beacon. Soon more lights popped into existence, some white, some red with quite a few orange and blue thrown into the mix. At times there were up to eight lights dancing over the landscape, all only lasting a few seconds, for varying lengths of time. The highlight was watching one particular orange-yellowish light grow suddenly large in size then split in two, quickly float wide apart for a few seconds before merging and fading away. The crowd became particularly excited over that one, with lots of oohs and ahhs.

We stayed to watch the ghost lights for just a little over an hour. It was interesting to watch the group dynamics at play as we shared witness to a mesmerizing, highly unusual event that is a regular occurrence for these parts. For a short while, we were all children watching a mysterious phenomenon unfold with rapt fascination.

To paraphrase my kids, "It was wicked cool!"

Continued in next post...

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posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 10:20 PM
A Plausible Explanation?

There have been several theories behind the ghost lights, ranging from plasma or ball lightning to swamp gas (How that works in a desert setting is beyond me.) to something of an extraterrestrial nature.

The most plausible explanation, at least to me, is more mundane -- but not the least bit boring.

In 2000, Alto Technology Resources, a company specializing in hyperspectral imaging systems for the oil and gas industry, were working on an environmental project near the Marfa area. This granted the company a unique opportunity to research the phenomenon.

Alto Technology Resources acquired hyperspectral data of portions of West Texas and New Mexico in July-September, 2000 for the purpose of establishing environmental baselines and soil and vegetation types in the region. One of these projects was geographically close to Marfa, TX, south of where The Marfa Mystery Lights reportedly exist. Because little new data have been added to the body of knowledge about the phenomena, we decided to perform a daytime-nighttime hyperspectral analysis of the area and make our findings available to the public.

A ground observer was stationed at the Marfa Mystery Light Observation Site while the aircraft was acquiring data. He saw the Marfa Lights in action and recorded them as well as conversations with the pilots on a conventional camcorder. Exact positions were known from onboard GPS units. The following is a summary of our findings:

1. While the ground observer saw Marfa Light activity, the pilots overhead saw nothing. They saw only known light sources from the town of Marfa, isolated cars on the roadways, a weigh station (or other permanent building along Hwy 67), and the radio beacons.

2. Nighttime sensor thermal infrared data confirmed the pilots' observations. While the sensor was capable of discriminating among soil types, soil conditions, lights, vegetation and roadways, no anomalies were detected. This lack of data effectively rules out ball lightening/plasma, burning swamp gas, radiant gas, pranksters carrying flashlights or lanterns, or direct car headlight beams.

3. Daytime sensor data showed the presence of areas with highly reflective soil in the extreme southwestern portion of the study area. Much of this soil flanked Highway 67 descending from the Chinati Mountains.

4. We combined the computer-generated soil distribution with the US Geological Survey topographic maps and Digital Elevation Models (DEM) that allowed us to view the soils and the topography as they would be seen from the Marfa Lights Observation Site.

Their work resulted in a fairly compelling study that makes a tremendous deal of sense. In short, they speculated that the headlights from vehicles descending the north side of the Chinati Mountains created the ghost light effect as it shined upon the patches of reflective soil.

We believe that the Marfa Lights are phenomena that are created by cars descending from the Chinati Mountains. As the cars descend along Highway 67, their headlights, shining northeast along the approximate azimuth of 220°, encounter the concave surface of the land that contains a coating of highly reflective soil. The soil creates a reflected beam that appears magnified and can appear to split and merge to an observer at the Marfa Lights Observation Site. This duplication, splitting and merging is likely the result of the cars' movements along the highway. At some point, the car is completely on the plain and no longer reflects its lights in the direction of the observer. Furthermore, the Rancheria Hills and other topographic features begin to block light transmission at that point.

Source: The Astronomy Cafe

While I have no doubt that this is a probable explanation for some of the ghost lights, I don't believe it is a definitive one for all of them. It would be a shame if something as intriguing as the ghost lights were merely nothing more than an elaborate mirage.

At least for my family, the Marfa Lights will always hold a special bit of magic and fond memories.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Has anyone else had the opportunity to witness the Marfa Lights or any of the other ghost lights around the world? Please share your own experience.

posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 10:23 PM
a reply to: maria_stardust

Wow, amazing story. I really like the way you put everything together.

posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 10:30 PM
a reply to: Quantum12

Thank you!

My goal is to give everyone a better understanding of what my family and I experienced.

posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 10:35 PM
a reply to: maria_stardust

What a beautiful account of your experience!

Seeing the Marfa Lights is on my Bucket List, has been for quite some time. I'm still in the planning stages for a cross-country thematic paranormal extravaganza for the day that (hopefully) the stars align and my ship comes in (no pun intended).

Strange to think, that as a youth I lived in West Texas, even camped at Big Bend a few times, but never got around to the side trip of visiting Marfa.

As far as the mystery behind the Lights phenomena, I daresay that while I do find some interest in the "official" explanations and more scientific appeals to reason, none of it will ever dissuade me from having my childhood moment of just standing at the viewing station with childlike wonder and curiosity...because deep down....I want to believe in the Mystery and just get lost in the magic of the moment.

edit on 3/28/16 by GENERAL EYES because: trademark format editing

posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 10:46 PM
Would this not be reproduced by mounting a powerful beam light on the mountain where the cars come down?
Shining the beam across the land towards the observer, and see if the effect occurs? Seems like that should have been done once Alto came up with that conclusion, as a definitive proof.

posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 10:50 PM
a reply to: maria_stardust

This is so well done.. I agree with Quantum12. 👍

Thanks for sharing.
edit on 28-3-2016 by Bigburgh because: (no reason given)

Not to familiar with this. Is the area over fault lines?
edit on 28-3-2016 by Bigburgh because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 10:57 PM
a reply to: Bigburgh

She really did an amazing job! A lot of work went into her awesome thread!

posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 11:01 PM
a reply to: GENERAL EYES

You NEED to take that trip. I promise, you won't be disappointed.

Despite all the theories floating around out there, actually viewing the lights for oneself is an awe inspiring experience. There is definitely a sense of something bordering on playfulness. But I guess that all comes down to one's individual perspective.

For my family and I it was certainly a positive experience.

posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 11:05 PM
a reply to: charlyv

Alto did an impressive job of documenting their findings. I strongly suggest that you take a look at it. It really is a fascinating (albeit, dry) read.

posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 11:08 PM
Wow, thanks for posting this. I don't post here much but I've lurked since 2008 and it was detailed stories like this that brought me here. You're truly a poster that makes ATS a great place.

posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 11:09 PM
a reply to: Bigburgh

Honestly, I'm not sure if there are fault lines in the area. It wouldn't be surprising. The Davis Mountains which are about twenty miles to the north are the result of a super volcano from millions of years ago.

Many thanks!

posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 11:10 PM
Thank you for sharing such a magical experience! Perhaps some of it can be explained away scientifically, but maybe...just maybe some of the lights are...something else.

posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 11:16 PM
a reply to: Quantum12

I noticed there was a survey of the area. But no mention of faults.. I don't imagine Texas getting earthquakes. Perhaps small man made natural gas drilling. But these Marfa lights have been around a long time.

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posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 11:20 PM
One small thing to note....the native Americans were watching the Marfa lights long before Henry had a ford......
There must have been stagecoach lights coming down the mountain right....I don't thin so lucy, more splainin to do yet....

edit on 28-3-2016 by bandersnatch because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 11:23 PM
a reply to: maria_stardust

I was posting as you wrote this. Off to Google maps to look at the lay of the land and Davis Mountains.
Thanks again.😊

posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 11:23 PM
a reply to: rollinondubs

This was just too cool an experience not to share.

Many thanks for your kind words.

posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 11:27 PM
a reply to: maria_stardust

Yes this is definitely on my Bucket List now.

Pulling up articles and video from the interwebs. Don't know how I missed this.👍🍻

posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 11:40 PM
Where did the local legend come from if car headlights are the explanation? Cars have not been around for "hundreds of years". And it seems like a pretty huge coincidence that such an odd reflective phenomenon would coincidentally appear right where a legend already existed.

posted on Mar, 28 2016 @ 11:45 PM
I have driven through this area many times on my journeys across the country as a truckdriver. It is desolate and beautiful.

Not sure if you saw it, but not far from the viewing area is a tethered radar station. I've often wondered if they have any data regarding radar returns indicating if these are solid objects.

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