Location: Marfa, Texas
Appearance: White, yellow, or sometimes other colors. The lights race in straight lines through the air, sometimes swooping and blinking. Some report the lights dance near the top of the mesas and may split and rejoin as they move.
- The lights are phantom Indian chiefs or stars falling from the sky.
- The lights are the wandering spirits of a family who got lost in the wilderness.
- The lights are the ghosts of Pancho Villa and his roving band.
- The light is the ghost of Adolf Hitler. Everyone knows he loved Texas!
Other explanations: Very likely car headlights from a nearby highway. Other highly questionable attempts at explanations: tectonic lights, bioluminescent jackrabbits, moonlight shining off mica deposits, nuclear test residue, remnant pterodactyls.
Additional notes: The Marfa Lights have a visitor center and a dedicated turnoff from which to view the lights. They appeared in season two of Unsolved Mysteries. Several university-based groups have determined the lights to originate from car headlights or campfires.
The Marfa Lights appear in the desert around the Chinati Mountains in West Texas. They appear at dusk and move through the air, sometimes racing in straight lines and sometimes swooping or blinking. Some report the lights dance near the top of the mesas and may split and rejoin as they move. The lights are most often described as yellow or white, but just about every color of the rainbow has been reported at one time or another. Like other ghost lights, they disappear when approached, making close observation difficult. Sources differ as to how often the lights are visible; while some claim the lights are visible every night, others say they only appear a handful of times a year.
The Marfa Lights may be the most famous spooklights in America. They were featured on Season 2 of Unsolved Mysteries and in numerous publications. A special turn off was constructed some years ago to observe them, and the community of Marfa has leaned into the attraction, building a visitor center and even hosting an annual Marfa Lights festival. Several university-sponsored research groups have determined the lights to originate from car headlights or campfires, but that doesn’t stop thousands of people from showing up to view the phenomenon each year.
Folklore surrounding the lights is standard stuff. Locals tell of Apache legends that contend the lights are phantom chiefs or stars falling from the sky. One story involves the wandering spirits of a family who got lost in the Texas wilderness; another blames the lights on the specters of Pancho Villa and his roving band. Alternative explanations trend towards the bizarre, even for ghost lights. Besides the usual ignited gas and tectonic lights, proposals include everything from bioluminescent jackrabbits to moonlight glancing off minerals in the desert to nuclear test residue to the ghost of Adolf Hitler to remnant pterodactyls. Yes, pterodactyls.
Although local legend holds that the lights have been seen all the way back to 1883, that oft-quoted tidbit may be in doubt. The claim appears to originate from a paragraph in Cecilia Thompson’s book History of Marfa and Presidio County, published in the 1980s. In the book, Thompson tells the third-hand story of a man named Robert Ellis who saw the lights in the 1880s and speculated them to be campfires of Native Americans. However, there is no firsthand account of this to be found. It’s likely that this is just another piece of folklore.
Nevertheless, the Marfa Lights are still a popular attraction and one of the few ghost lights that seems to be reliable in the modern era. If you’re ever in West Texas, they may be worth a visit.
Date received: Thu, 31 Jul 2003
My wife, son, and I went to Marfa Texas in late July 2003. Just before darkness settled, a white light appeared across the plains at the top of the mountain. It stayed there a few seconds and then went straight into the clear sky. A lady sitting down from me at the viewing stand said, “I have been coming here for years and that’s the first one I’ve seen do that.” I watched a green light through binoculars split into six lights and chase each other. I gave them to my son and he counted seven lights.
We were there for about two hours and the moving and different color lights were active and pleasant to watch. My son and I saw one white light split into three lights side by side, then switch to up and down, and then they just played around in circles. Some want to say its lights from cars coming from Presidio but the Indians and cowboys in the 1880s reported seeing them. Someone there told me the Army went out there with radio men and helicopters to find them but the lights were faster and more maneuverable than the choppers.
I don’t know what they are, but it was worth the trip to West Texas just to see the lights. Marfa is a nice town and there is a viewing stand where you can watch the light show. Bring your own chair and a jacket. The elevation is higher than Denver and gets chilly at night.