If you’re driving in the middle of the night in Texas, you can start to see things. A little too drowsy on the highway, someone might mistake the lights outside their car window as headlights or campfires in the distance. You might stop at a turnoff on Highway 90, just to relax and stretch a bit, but those lights you saw are still there, twinkling in the starlight on the moonless night of your journey. As you watch, lights of different colors appear, bop around, and sometimes even shoot through the dark night between the trees. Do you still think it’s just headlights? What kind of campfire could move like that? You’ve just stumbled upon one of the greatest paranormal mysteries in Texas, maybe the entire country. The Marfa Lights, shining across the terrain from you, have just made their ghostly appearance.
Situated about 7 miles away from the town of Marfa, Texas, a viewing turnoff is a popular place for would-be spirit or UFO hunters to set up and watch the phenomenon unfold. Thousands of people have reported seeing the lights with no clear cause, dating all the way back to the time when Texas was part of Mexico, or just a territory that would one day become the lone star state.
Long ago, Native Americans living in the region reported the lights as the spirits of their ancestors, still giving guidance from beyond the grave. It was believed to be an urban legend until more settlers began to move into the region. The first reported sighting of the Marfa Lights was a young ranch hand, Robert Reed Ellison, who saw them in 1883 on the horizon as he drove cattle through a nearby pass. Other settlers told him upon his return that they had seen the same lights, and when they rode up to investigate, there was nothing there but empty forest and foliage. They found no ashes or any sign of a campfire, and once they moved further away, the lights would continue to make their ghostly appearance. More sightings were reported in a book about Texas published in 1885, and from then on the phenomenon became a local sensation, baffling and intriguing locals and visitors alike.
The lights are described in many ways, some of them being colorful and whimsical, others a cold white light that seems to stare down those watching for it. Some say they felt a sense of peace while watching the lights dance across the flat, while others still seem to feel the malevolence described by older members of the community. Are they aliens? Ghosts? Swamp gas ignited by an unknown source? The list of possible explanations seems a mile long with no real resolution to the mystery. Today, hundreds of tourists still stop on that stretch of highway 90 outside Marfa to watch and hopefully see the spirited lights across the way. Many get their wish, but no one gets an explanation, perhaps beyond our earthly understanding.
While there are a hundred possible explanations put forth by skeptics, including a mirage effect caused by the flat terrain or gasses escaping the earth and igniting, none of them seem to fit perfectly with the phenomenon seen near Marfa. The lights are said to appear in many different colors, bouncing through the trees as if held by a ghostly hand, or even taking personalities of their own as they shoot across the field only to stop and disappear before reaching the spectators. Those who believe are even split in their opinion of what the lights really are, with some believing they are extraterrestrial in nature and others blaming ghostly spirits trapped in the afterlife.
Whatever causes the Marfa Lights, it doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon, so be sure to stop along the way to Marfa in the dark and see if you, too, can see the eerie phenomenon of lights in the distance.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.