Close Encounters

"The ghost lights have entranced area settlers and visitors for more than a century and have eluded precise scientific examination and explanation for at least half that long. Some viewers claim to have seem them up close, describing them as one or two (occasionally more) red or yellow or bluish lights about the size of basketballs, or one colored basketball-sized light, or as a single, startlingly bright light. But most people view them from afar, the way Hallie Stillwell has done for more than 75 years. " ( Janet Christian. Urban Legends. July 23, 1993. marfa_lights.html)




8... "I think it is quite obvious the lights in these photos come from highway traffic between Marfa and Presidio. Still this does not explain reports of lights traveling beside vehicles at highway speeds and several tens of feet away from the roadway. And it does not explain sightings that occurred as far back as the mid 1800s before automobiles came along." ( Bill Baker marfa_lights2.html)


11... "The orbs appear at dusk on the horizon. The red, blue or green lights dance around in the night and at times split into two separate entities. Efforts to get near them have failed and left those who have tried feeling as though the orbs were toying with them. The closest report is that of geologist Pat Kenney who was in the area in search of uranium deposits. He is to have claimed to coming within 25 yards of an orb and says now, "finally, after some 15 years of studying the lights and searching for their source, I kind of adopted the local 'let 'em be' philosophy, and quit looking so hard." ( Cary Darling , Strange Texas News, Copyright 2000)

14... "The lights really do defy all attempts at explanation. Attempts to locate their source always fail because they usually vanish when anyone tries to approach them. People hike, ride horseback, drive jeeps, and even fly helicopters and airplanes to follow the lights. Some have followed them as far as thirty-five miles. The lights always win. Searchers have never found campfires, buildings, tire tracks, footprints, or any other evidence that could explain the lights' sources. Some people even claim that the lights would reappear, after they had abandoned the search and were miles away looking back over their shoulders. The lights can be seen in the southwest, across the Mitchell Flats near Chinati Mountain, from an official viewing point on Highway 90 between Alpine and Marfa. This viewing point was erected at the request of area ranchers, who became tired of curiosity seekers disturbing their cattle, and they had a right to complain. Just about every night, right before dusk, the parking lot fills up with spectators equipped with everything from binoculars, cameras, and camcorders to high-powered telescopes. And they are seldom disappointed. As the sun sets, the lights appear, coming in all sorts of sizes, which climb in the sky, then merge, split, or float back down. They change color, appearing green, yellow, blue, and sometimes orange. One minute they will be bright, then fade and disappear. They have even been reported between Paso Lajitas and San Carlos, Mexico, and the Federales, who patrol the road for smugglers, have been fooled into spotting what they thought were approaching headlights, only to have no vehicle ever appear." ( marfaL8.html )

18..."Then, a sighting occurred in 1985 which appeared to succeed in wiping out the car headlight least, that's the claim. Robert Black, a graduate student in geology at Sul Ross University, decided to climb Goat Mountain south of Alpine for rock samples. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, he and a friend drove out a county road east of Marfa, parked their truck, and hiked in. It was early in the morning on an exceptionally warm day for the mountains at that time of year, and both men were dressed in light-weight clothing. After collecting rock samples, Black's friend, who loved sunsets, commented, "This is going to be a beautiful sunset, isn't it. Look, the sun's going down." At that moment, Black realized that they had stayed longer on the climb than he had intended. They would have to really hurry to make it out before dark. Breaking into a run, they spied the truck way off on the Flats, but distances are deceiving in the desert, and before they could reach the truck, the sun was down. They were on the west side of Goat Mountain, in the middle of the Mitchell Flats. Black says it best, "Anyone who knows the Marfa flats, knows that it is flat, featureless, and boring---no geological marker out in the sea of desert and really no way to find your way around, especially in the dark." The men wisely decided to spend the night where they were. To keep warm, they gathered creosote bushes for fires. A little before midnight, as they huddled around the fires looking toward the north and northwest in the direction of Highway 90, their talk turned to the Marfa Lights. The men were right in the Flats, where the lights were normally seen, and they began to hope the lights would make an appearance. They didn't have long to wait. Shortly after midnight, they saw a "horizontal length of light that had a sort of dancing vibration movement." As the men watched in fascination, the "little beams of light danced up and down in a kind of wave formation, moved across, jumped straight up vertically, came back down, danced horizontally, then disappeared." They saw the lights four or five times that night. Black's account was unusual because it was the first reported sighting of the lights from a location several miles south of Highway 90 and looking north toward Highway 90. The Chinati Mountains were to their backs. It ruled out any supposition of car headlights in the mountains as being the cause of the mystery lights. Since Black and his companion were between the Chinati Mountains and Highway 90, and the lights appeared between the men and the highway, skeptics were forced to rethink their previous positions. ( marfaL8.html)


An unscientific method was tried in the 1980’s by Dallas journalist, Kirby Warnock. Warnock’s family had settled in the Trans-Pecos region just north of Big Bend country more than one hundred years ago, and he first saw the lights in 1963, when he was eleven-years-old and his brother was eight. He and his brother decided that the reason no one ever got close to the lights was because they used motor vehicles, such as airplanes, jeeps, and cars. The two men thought that if they headed out on foot across the desert, they just might be able to sneak up on the lights. One summer, they assembled their gear and a camera, and at dusk, started walking. They tried for four hours to get close to the lights, but it was like walking up to a mirage. The more they walked, the further the lights moved away. Warnock reported that he thought the lights were "trying to frustrate and thwart us. It was like they knew what we were doing and were teasing us by staying just a little ahead of us." It is a fact that distances are deceiving in the desert. The Warnocks could not tell if they were looking at a light as big as a tire or one as big as a cantaloupe. They just could not get close enough to get a good idea of how big the lights actually were. (


William Edward Syers 'Ghost Stories of Texas' (1981) gives the following account:

"One hundred years after Ellison's time, the Houston Chronicle's Stan Redding and photographer Carlos Antonio Rios came upon the lights dancing in the high blackbrush flats east of Marfa at Paisano Pass. For Rio's pictures, these two came as close to the lights as any, aside from the lost rancher. You can duplicate the newsman's vantage point nine miles east of Mafa at the old air base. Look south. The lights roam the Chinati or the Dead Horse, sometimes descending to flirt about the great expanse of flats below. They range far and wide. They have been sighted from Twin Peaks near Alpine, across to the old mountains near Presidio.".

Copyright (C) 2001 Dr. Sten Odenwald