THE MARFA LIGHTS


The Marfa Lights are named for their location near the town of Marfa, Texas. Marfa is a small ranching community 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 vast mountains and is Texas' highest incorporated city. Marfa is known primarily for its famous Marfa Mystery Lights and as the location for the shooting of the classic movie "Giant," with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Dennis Hopper and James Dean.

The Ghost lights of Marfa still shine as bright as ever, and are still as mysterious 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? 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. Marfa Lights are generally considered harmless. They are even rumored to have helped a lost man during a blizzard by providing warmth and guiding him home.

The ghost lights appear in many different ways to different people. Some swear they have seen them divide to form separate balls of light. Others claim that they have seen them move up and down. All agree that they glow as softly as a star at times, then brighten to the intensity of a stoplight. Sometimes they pop off and on. As they fade they seem to be receding. There are verifiable accounts of people being pursued by the lights.

Scientists have made numerous attempts to put the mystery to rest. In 1947, Fritz Kahl, a local war veteran and pilot, chased the Lights in an airplane, but came up empty. In 1975, Kahl made another attempt, this time with a team that included observers in Jeeps and planes. The "Marfa Ghost Light Hunt," as it was called, featured "more than a hundred carloads of observers gathered between the two observation points, one at Paisano Pass and the other at the entrance to the old Presidio County Airport," according to the Sul Ross "Skyline" newspaper. The searchers, "utilizing aircraft, survey instruments, multi-band radio equipment and about a half-dozen search teams," were no more successful than Kahl had been in his solo search of '47, and the legend grew.

Some believe that the lights are nothing more than high-powered lights from area ranches or the reflected headlights from nearby cars and trucks, but that doesn't explain why the Lights have been reported since before electricity or vehicles ever reached the Big Bend area. Nor does it explain why there have been reports of observers hearing a high-pitched, "tuning fork" noise in only one ear while watching the Lights.

A Marfa lights viewing site has been provided for the public on Highway 90, by the Texas Highway department. It is located nine miles east of Marfa. Ghost light watchers can park in the area and scan the south-western horizon, looking toward Chinati Peak. Using a distant red tower light as a marker, one can be certain that any light to the right of the marker, which appears and disappears, is a Marfa ghost light. You will know them when you see them. There is no mistaking them.

The Marfa Lights Festival

The Marfa Lights Festival is celebrated every Labor Day Weekend around the Historic Presidio County Courthouse. Food and crafts vendors sell their ware while the Marfa community and guests are entertained by live music and dancing.

The Festival is kicked off on Friday night with the Marfa Lights Night Parade. Saturday morning, the more traditional parade begins late morning and travels through town with floats, the Marfa High School Band, fire and police trucks, equestrian entries and more. Each evening a special music event is offered with headliner groups making the end of a Marfa Summer a huge party. For more information, contact the Marfa Chamber of Commerce at (915) 729-4942.




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