Marfa Lights Are No Mystery

No mystery lights of Marfa at nightThe only mystery about the Marfa Lights is why nobody tells you the truth about your actual chances of seeing them.

On our way to Big Bend, we just had to investigate all the hype we had heard about the Mystery Lights of Marfa. We stopped by the Marfa Chamber of Commerce office and asked when was the best time to see the lights. “Oh, any time after dark,” we were told by a pleasant woman. “Any day of the year, really,” she added as we inquired deeper. She was apparently perpetuating the mystery.

We heard you can boondock where the lights are seen most and found the Marfa Lights Viewing Area nine miles east of town right on Highway 90. It’s really quite a nice rest area designed by local high school students, with ample parking, rest rooms, and interpretive displays. We settled in with a front row seat, and waited for dark.

One of the first the first signs that there would be no sign of mysterious lights that night was the half dozen or so displays themselves. They pointed out distant mountain ranges and discussed regional flora and fauna. But only one had any information about the lights themselves. And if you read the small faded printout pinned in the corner of the display case the truth was revealed.

Marfa Mystery Lights Viewing Train TracksChances of witnessing the Marfa lights on any given night are quite rare. In fact, based on less than 30 viewings in 2002, your chances of actually seeing any anomalies in the sky after dark are about eight percent. This number decreases with each hour past sunset. But we were determined to try.

The freezing wind finally forced inside after nearly two hours searching the skies for anything other than oncoming headlights. Supposedly, people have reported seeing the lights since the late 1880s. Explanations range from weather related phenomena and human pranksters, to the piezoelectric effects of thermal expansion in quartz of the distant mountains. But we have developed our own theory …

The reports from the 1880s were fabricated some time in the 1970s when interest in Marfa, Texas had fallen. The hullabaloo from the days of George Stevens filming Giant in Marfa 20 years earlier was all but forgotten, and locals needed a reason to bring back the tourists. It worked. They’re still coming now. And they are still told they can see the lights any day after dark. Yeah, right.

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12 Responses to “Marfa Lights Are No Mystery”

  1. So ok your explanation of the Marfa lights are they are distant headlights? Ok right, really? Just because you wouldn’t believe they existed if they slapped you in the forehead and called you dummy doesn’t mean they don’t exist and are nothing but car lights!!!! That’s just like saying UFO’s don’t exist even though there millions of witnesses and even the government admits that most are fakes, hoaxes, mis identifications and so on but there’s that small 10% to 15% that are real dyed in the wool true blue UFO’s in every sense of the word. They are photographed and video taped and there is no doubt they exist just like the Marfa lights and if they were nothing but distant car lights then they would be seen all night long every night of the year, I’m sure some might be mis identified car lights or other natural explanation but why are true Maria light sightings so rare as to only be seen a half dozen or so times each year? Come on try harder then saying they are car lights people… Just because you don’t believe and can’t elain it doesn’t mean they don’t exist and are not mysterious in nature

    Billy X

  2. Surprisingly, the myth is that they are only car lights and any one that tells you they can be seen most nights has been watching car lights. At the bottom of all the hoopla is a very real and fascinating phenomena that makes an appearance infrequently (on the order of 6 to 12 times a year) but has characteristics that are truly difficult to explain. See for more information.

  3. Spoiler alert! The lights are real, not a tourist trap invented by the Marfans. Unfortunately, though, they have a rather mundane explanation. They are car headlights in the far distance, distorted by atmospheric phenomena. Some physics students from the University of Texas definitively proved this explanation in 2004. Still quite remarkable however, just not in the supernatural sense!

  4. Jim and Rene: Texas IS a great state. My husband and I are originally from Missouri and now live about 30 miles north of Fort Worth in Argyle. We take our RV (and pets) to the TX hill country whenever we can get away from work. We love the Fredericksburg area and areas south and southwest of Kerrville. We also love to visit the Big Bend area but it is harder to get away that long. If you are into motorcycles be sure to check out Ride Texas magazine for ideas on where to ride, eat, etc. We recently sold our cycles but still find the magazine helpful as a travel resource. Our dream would be to live down in the TX hill country during the winter months and in New Mexico or Colorado in the summer. I have been following Tripawds since your spot on the PBS special. We have traveled so much with our pets, we were very interested in Jerry’s story. Enjoy Texas! Lana and Mike Shaw

  5. Back in 2001 I was wandering from Michigan in December and found myself on the road to Big Bend after sunset. Didn’t know exactly where I was but I noticed some very weird lights (really an illumination) low in the sky in the distance. Just kept driving and looking until they passed from view. Had never heard of the Marfa lights until afterwards. So- I’ve seen them- their real- honest.

    Enjoy Big Bend- it is a very spectacular place.

    • Thanks for the comment Neil, Big Bend is a pretty far way to wander from Michigan! But certainly a lot more hospitable in December I’m sure. We loved it!, movies coming soon …

    • We have met people who swear they saw them, but we never knew that our chances of seeing them are slim to none. You’re one lucky guy!


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