Mystery of 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 1955 classic movie "Giant," with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean. Dean mounted a small telescope on a fence post to better spy on the lights, should they suddenly pop up.

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.

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 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.

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.

It was 1943 when the mysterious lights were given a real boost in publicity. That year, the Army established a pilot training base in Marfa. Fritz Kahl, an airman at the base, who later stayed to run the Marfa airport, reported that when the airmen saw the lights for the first time, there was absolutely no vehicular traffic at night.

In fact, fuel was rationed, and lights themselves were a phenomenon because there were no lights of any kind, not even on the local ranches.

Over the years, explanations for the mysterious lights have ranged from ball lightning to St. Elmos fire to dead Indians, ghosts, tricks, and static electricity to name a few theories.

Fortunately, several of these theories can be discounted because they dont apply to the West Texas region.

The Marfa Lights remain unexplained.