(c) Copyright Sharon Eby-Martin 2000, 2001, 2002
Hey! We got to see the Marfa lights! ...... two nights in a row for several hours each. We started off at the standard observation point approx 9 miles east of Marfa, TX located on highway 90. For a puny west TX town of around 2500 people this lookout point was packed with people come dusk. With flashlights and headlights, folks walking around beside their cars, RV's, trailers, etc. were cramming into this small roadside parking area. People from all over were lined up in the "yard" area (fenced in) to view the lights. Of course, a good many of them were newcomers, as well as a few folks we met who religiously came each year to see the lights. The newbies didn't have a clue that they were calling the headlights going down the mountain on highway 67 THE "Marfa lights"! We had arrived before dusk, of course, to check out the terrain and notice where the mountains were located, and to get a feel for the area so we wouldn't be so confused come dark.
Friday night (the day after Thanksgiving) we sat there, freezing our hinies off in the moonless night while we turned on the make-shift ELF/VLF magnetic "Natural radio" receiver. It was a weak receiver, although it has been successfully used by Ed Hendricks, whom I've had contact with via email, in the past to pick up the lower frequencies given off when the Marfa lights show up. One lady laughed at me when I told her I had this receiver... oh well, her loss. I found that most people there had the mentality of typical "tourists" rather than any real investigation into this long-claimed "ghost light" phenomenon that has been seen for over 100 years in the area. With magnetic receiver in hand my husband and nephew and I stood and awaited the famous lights to come "on" so we could see them. My parents and children and a friend were close by, but they were hiding out in the warmth of the vehicles for the most part.... and it was then that I wished that I had a nice, heavy coat instead of the few layers of clothing and light jacket I had on as we stood waiting. The sun set, the mountains became a silhouette against the darkening sky and the cars ramping down highway 67 that extends south of Marfa turned on their headlights. One could easily spot the ranchers' lights from the ranch houses out in the desert also.
Then at 6:45 pm, my nephew Derek and I saw a very bright light "turn on" south south-west from the viewing location. At this same time, my husband, with his back turned to the light, had his ear to the receiver and he exclaimed how the receiver started clicking and making noise at that same moment! Then after a few seconds, the light that had been quickly turning yellow to orange to red and occasionally a whitish color just "blinked out". Along with it, the sounds on the receiver died. We were ecstatic to think that perhaps what we had just witnessed could have been the real thing, rather than headlights, especially since it was not in the same backdrop area of the Chinati mountains where highway 67 lurked. We got a little confused after that though, and thought perhaps it could have been coincidence, when the light came back on, and the receiver no longer made any "special" noises. We watched the light and it did appear to move back and forth, however I stood very still and used one of the fence posts as an anchor and peeked at the light with only one eye open and realized that the appearance of the light moving was only an optical illusion. It was not moving at all. This was the beginning of what would later be a full realization of just how deceptive the desert, with all it's hills and valleys, could be in tricking the eyes in a full optical illusion. Not unlike the heat waves that show up on a hot day over the desert, the nights also hold some secrets in illusion....... but the great question was.... are the Marfa lights such an illusion, or are they real?
Since there was not the convenience of a bathroom at the official Marfa Lights Viewing Area we packed up temporarily to head back to town. We left our oldest son Tyler, and Derek, to stay and watch over the lawn chairs and blankets we had placed there, and to keep listening for the receiver to make more noises. On our way back to the viewing site I noticed that the one light we had seen was really two lights when seen from a different perspective.... or so I thought. When we returned the entire parking lot was packed with people and since I was not even remotely willing to deal with the headaches of that, nor in having my deep curiosity satisfied by viewing possible lights from a distance of 10 miles away, we threw our belongings into the SUV and headed toward Nopal road which lies west of the viewing area. From there, we thought, we would be able to view the lights up close and personal.
My parents had given up fighting the cold and took our little ones (thank God for many blessings that grandparents often deliver!) with them to where we were camping and my husband, Gerald, and I, as well as Tyler and Derek all headed down Nopal road towards the area of the lights. We had to be very careful not to leave the road as private property in Texas is serious business... especially when Ranchers post No Trespassing signs and often hold guns in their possession. After 5 miles we crossed the old railroad tracks and kept heading south toward what still appeared to be two amber-colored lights in the distance. They seemed to just sit there motionless so we figured they must have been ranchers lights after all. The road Y'ed and we stopped to park to just watch for a while. An hour passed again and nothing happened. We decided that sitting in the SUV was a bit smarter than trying to fight the cold so the inside of the vehicle became our sanctuary and our official "stake-out" place whenever we got too cold.
Just before 10 pm, during one of the times we were standing outside of the vehicle, we noticed that the two stationary lights had suddenly doubled and that there were four lights! The lights appeared to be within less than a mile away. We exclaimed aloud as, this anomaly we watched (sometimes through binoculars), the four lights became two again, and then three, and then two once more. Excited by this new thrill, and now with the fuel needle showing between a quarter of a tank and Empty we decided that this was too fantastic to pass up.... we headed out towards Marfa to put more gas into the tank so we could continue further down the Nopal road to see these lights up close!
Upon returning we passed the Y in the road and went around the bend where we lost sight of the two lights that were still hanging there in the same place in the sky. While rounding the bend, with the lights out of view, the road finally straightened out again and we continued to look south for the lights. Now we couldn't see them anymore. The road ended at the 10 mile mark as we reached a ranch that had a closed gate with warning signs all over. Strange words like "cyanide" and "US Government" involvement and "predators" were on these signs to ward off people (along with their pets) so that curious trespassers would not dare to cross the line. Cyanide canasters are sometimes used to kill coyotes and other predators and to protect the livestock on the ranches. It all gave way to a very strange and uneasy feeling out there in the lonely desert. It seemed the Marfa lights had abandoned us and had been replaced instead with this fearful thought of deadly poison lurking on the other side of the fence just waiting to kill anything that dared cross it's path.
With that, we turned and headed back and realized that the two amber-colored lights had been there the entire time, but had been BEHIND US, off in the desert in the area west of the bend in the road (where we had lost sight of it prior to this due to the hills). We got as close as we could and stopped the vehicle and got out. We watched as the lights stood at attention and then the left light faded into oblivion. The light on the right side remained and we didn't know what to make of it. We decided to head around the bend and go back to our original area of the Y to view it from that side again. It was south of us so since we could not reach the light by way of the left road that Y'ed off, we decided to try the road on the right.
As we headed towards it, it faded and so we stopped the vehicle, wondering if our close distance to it might've had something to do with it. It seemed that it couldn't have been more than a half of a mile away at that time. When we went forward we spotted the entrance to Antelope Springs, a nearby ranch. We dared not enter, but did notice two windmills off the left. At that point we figured the windmills were in the same vicinity of the two lights we had seen and we wondered if some type of scam wasn't afoot to create the lights on a more consistent basis to keep the tourism up. After all, I had been told by many of the locals, as well as having read similar comments by folks who have written articles, that they didn't want to know what caused the lights. People enjoy a good mystery, but a town the size of Marfa doesn't seem to have a lot to offer, so the economic reasons for keeping tourism alive in the area is obvious. For example, why put the convenience of a pit toilet at the viewing location when you can make folks drive into town and buy some snacks and fill up with gasoline instead? Perhaps they had some contraption on the windmills that would cause the lights to APPEAR to split off into 4 or three lights. Well, it was a workable theory at first anyway.
Eventually, about 12:45 am, we gave up looking for the lights and went back to camp to get some sleep. The next afternoon, after touring around Ft. Davis and the McDonald Observatory, we returned to the Marfa area, down Nopal road, to see the windmills at Antelope Springs, and just check out the area in general during the DAYLIGHT hours. It was not long before the "scam" theory was shot down as we realized the windmills looked like normal windmills, and there were no apparent towers or other fixed objects in the area that would be indicative of having lights atop them. In fact, the notion seemed silly when one considered that the lights have a history of over 100 years in the area, long before cars or electric lights were commonplace. This time though, we had a plan... a different plan.
We had to hurry because the sun was setting and darkness would be upon us soon. This time it was just the two boys and myself as my husband decided to stay back at camp with our 5 and 3 year olds. I parked the SUV at the Y and quickly made what we called the "chicken foot" mark in the dirt by the edge of the road. This would best be described as three lines that come out from a point, hence having the appearance of a giant chicken footprint. The main point ("heel" of the "chicken foot") was made under an electric line in direct line with the electric poles. The center "toe" of the chicken foot marks flowed in the direction of the power lines. To the right was the "toe" that pointed directly to the Antelope Springs ranch house. The left "toe" pointed directly to the windmills. Now we had a way to spot "landmarks" in the dark when those same landmarks were not visible in the dark hours of the night. Now we had something to compare the location of the lights to if they were to show up again. It was a good plan.
All we had to do is wait. Again the two amber-colored light showed up to the south of the Y road. Quickly we ran to the "chicken foot" and I stood at the main point where the "heel" of the "chicken foot" was. The lights were in direct line with the windmills. Ah hah!! We jumped back into the vehicle and drove to the windmills, but alas, the lights, although still visible, seemed farther away and yet the windmills stood there alone in the dark, with the Marfa lights probably laughing at us in the distance as we sulked.
Around the bend we went, looking to see the lights in that same empty field to the west of the bend. As we rounded the end of the bend we looked and realized that the lights had to have moved at tremendous speed because even though they were close to us at first, now they were NOT in the bend area AT ALL (which was now to the north again).... but were waaaaaayyy down south and to the west of the "cyanide ranch" gate. These lights had moved away from us and had stopped at a safe distance in a place where we could not reach them. The magnetic receiver rarely would make a sound although once in a while it would seem to freak out.... we weren't sure why this was happening either. Our binoculars showed that the lights, which would pulsate and grow brighter and then go dim, only to repeat the process again and again, were not moving anywhere but were so bright that an area of approximately 100 feet (radius) would light up. Bushes and even a tall object that appeared to be either a tree or an electric pole, were lit up near the lights.
The lights became three, with the light on the left being of medium brightness, the right one very bright, and a small one next to, and to the right of the bright one, quite dim. Across the desert perhaps a few hundred feet was another light of medium brightness. In the binoculars only, one could see a bunch of very tiny lights trailing between the three main lights and the lone light that stood a few hundred feet away. All the lights just sat there motionless although when my eyes were not fixed upon a star or a stationary ranchers light as an "anchor" one would almost swear on the Bible that they were moving back and forth or up and down due to the atmospheric disturbances and illusionary distances of the desert at night. We had tested this the night before with a ranchers light that "appeared" to stretch and then triple itself when we moved slowly forward on foot or in the vehicle. Derek and Tyler and my husband all noticed this phenomenon, although I only saw the ranchers light stay single the entire time. As they backed up on the road, the ranchers light would appear to become one again. This would happen when a hill would seem to pass in front of a distant light as one moved forward or backward. This was not the case with the Marfa lights we were witnessing. These suckers had completely moved aross literal MILES in the desert (to the north of our vehicle the first night, and then to the south the second night) despite being parked in the same place each time!
Our last indication of PROOF to us was when we headed one more time over to the "chicken foot". I stood at the same point at the "heel" and compared the position of the lights with the left "toe". The left "toe" had originally pointed at the lights, in the same direction as the windmills.... but this time the lights were far off in the distance (miles away now) to the left of the left "toe". This would have put it many 1000's of feet to the east of it's original location from the perspective given at the "chicken foot". It seemed like a silly sounding way to check for the position of the Marfa lights, but it proved beyond a doubt that these lights were truly moving all over that valley DESPITE the illusionary effects of the atmosphere on the lights. It was an amazing sight indeed!
We look forward to the time when we can go back and see the lights up close again.... and Oh! how we had wished we could just flap our arms and fly over to the lights as they sat still in those areas of temporary rest. One day we plan to go back and do some more investigating into the Marfa lights, and hopefully, it will be during the summer when the weather is warm and lights are still dancing in the desert. I am counting on both.