Marfa Lights Are No Mystery

No mystery lights of Marfa at nightThe only mystery about the Marfa Lights is why nobody tells you the truth about your actual chances of seeing them.

On our way to Big Bend, we just had to investigate all the hype we had heard about the Mystery Lights of Marfa. We stopped by the Marfa Chamber of Commerce office and asked when was the best time to see the lights. “Oh, any time after dark,” we were told by a pleasant woman. “Any day of the year, really,” she added as we inquired deeper. She was apparently perpetuating the mystery.

We heard you can boondock where the lights are seen most and found the Marfa Lights Viewing Area nine miles east of town right on Highway 90. It’s really quite a nice rest area designed by local high school students, with ample parking, rest rooms, and interpretive displays. We settled in with a front row seat, and waited for dark.

One of the first the first signs that there would be no sign of mysterious lights that night was the half dozen or so displays themselves. They pointed out distant mountain ranges and discussed regional flora and fauna. But only one had any information about the lights themselves. And if you read the small faded printout pinned in the corner of the display case the truth was revealed.

Marfa Mystery Lights Viewing Train TracksChances of witnessing the Marfa lights on any given night are quite rare. In fact, based on less than 30 viewings in 2002, your chances of actually seeing any anomalies in the sky after dark are about eight percent. This number decreases with each hour past sunset. But we were determined to try.

The freezing wind finally forced inside after nearly two hours searching the skies for anything other than oncoming headlights. Supposedly, people have reported seeing the lights since the late 1880s. Explanations range from weather related phenomena and human pranksters, to the piezoelectric effects of thermal expansion in quartz of the distant mountains. But we have developed our own theory …

The reports from the 1880s were fabricated some time in the 1970s when interest in Marfa, Texas had fallen. The hullabaloo from the days of George Stevens filming Giant in Marfa 20 years earlier was all but forgotten, and locals needed a reason to bring back the tourists. It worked. They’re still coming now. And they are still told they can see the lights any day after dark. Yeah, right.

18 thoughts on “Marfa Lights Are No Mystery”

  1. Hi Ken,
    I just read your comment above. Have recently published another (hopefully my last) little book on the Marfa Lights called IN DEFENSE OF THE MARFA LIGHTS 😃. This little book (59 pages) is available from B&N, Amazon, and other book sellers both as a paperback and as an eBook. Basically it is a response to an elaborate attempt from Spain to debunk my investigation. This small book constitutes my proof that my photographs are not photographs of headlights. I think you will find it interesting and informative. I am now a member of SCU if that is the organization you referred to above.
    During my investigation, real Marfa Lights (MLs) were very rare but fascinating because they exhibit behaviors that are, so far, unexplained. Not easy to study because they are so rare😉 but, as I comment in my new book, they are a potential gold mine for science, in my humble opinion. Ken, thanks for your inquiry.

  2. I worked the Marfa Lights Festival several years ago, and after my co-worker and I packed up to drive to Marathon because by the time we tried to book a hotel they were full-so we drove out and stopped at the observation area and we must have hit it just right because we saw the lights both nights!! We were told there were some tourists from Japan that had been there for 2 weeks and never saw one light! My co-worker insisted they were headlights but the pattern of traffic verses the orbs of light didn’t match up-not to mention they were not all in a single row across the horizon. Some were higher up and some were lower and they would light up and then go dark in no particular pattern. I BELIEVE and I’m the biggest skeptic out there!

  3. So ok your explanation of the Marfa lights are they are distant headlights? Ok right, really? Just because you wouldn’t believe they existed if they slapped you in the forehead and called you dummy doesn’t mean they don’t exist and are nothing but car lights!!!! That’s just like saying UFO’s don’t exist even though there millions of witnesses and even the government admits that most are fakes, hoaxes, mis identifications and so on but there’s that small 10% to 15% that are real dyed in the wool true blue UFO’s in every sense of the word. They are photographed and video taped and there is no doubt they exist just like the Marfa lights and if they were nothing but distant car lights then they would be seen all night long every night of the year, I’m sure some might be mis identified car lights or other natural explanation but why are true Maria light sightings so rare as to only be seen a half dozen or so times each year? Come on try harder then saying they are car lights people… Just because you don’t believe and can’t elain it doesn’t mean they don’t exist and are not mysterious in nature

    Billy X

  4. Surprisingly, the myth is that they are only car lights and any one that tells you they can be seen most nights has been watching car lights. At the bottom of all the hoopla is a very real and fascinating phenomena that makes an appearance infrequently (on the order of 6 to 12 times a year) but has characteristics that are truly difficult to explain. See for more information.

    • Mr. Bunnell,
      I am replying to a comment you made here in 2012, so I don’t know if this will even get to you, but this is my first attempt to try and contact you.
      I am Ken Jordan, The Texas State Director for MUFON (The Mutual UFO Network). Our three Texas Chapters are doing a feasibility study on conducting a continued investigation of the MLs as an extension of previous efforts. Personally, I find your efforts to be the most credible of the several I have been researching. I am currently reading your book on the subject. I wanted to inquire as to if you might be available and willing to talk with us about your work and maybe provide some insight and guidance as if our concept of execution is a viable approach to try and acquire more facts to the phenomenon. We intend to publish the results is all goes well. I hope this reached you, and I look forward to any reply.

  5. Spoiler alert! The lights are real, not a tourist trap invented by the Marfans. Unfortunately, though, they have a rather mundane explanation. They are car headlights in the far distance, distorted by atmospheric phenomena. Some physics students from the University of Texas definitively proved this explanation in 2004. Still quite remarkable however, just not in the supernatural sense!

    • The physics students did not definitively prove anything. Their conclusion was based on their own research techniques and subjective observations. My opinion is that there is no one explanation but a series of phenomenon that happen to occasionally and randomly align in that area and only when viewed from the right angle (like seeing a rainbow). People are way too fixed on trying to define the light source than on the lights themselves and what their behavior/movement can tell us about the desert environment/ecosystem in that are. The light source could be lightening bugs or luminescent rocks for all I care. The light source only matters if it really does come from alien spaceships… which I doubt.

  6. Jim and Rene: Texas IS a great state. My husband and I are originally from Missouri and now live about 30 miles north of Fort Worth in Argyle. We take our RV (and pets) to the TX hill country whenever we can get away from work. We love the Fredericksburg area and areas south and southwest of Kerrville. We also love to visit the Big Bend area but it is harder to get away that long. If you are into motorcycles be sure to check out Ride Texas magazine for ideas on where to ride, eat, etc. We recently sold our cycles but still find the magazine helpful as a travel resource. Our dream would be to live down in the TX hill country during the winter months and in New Mexico or Colorado in the summer. I have been following Tripawds since your spot on the PBS special. We have traveled so much with our pets, we were very interested in Jerry’s story. Enjoy Texas! Lana and Mike Shaw

  7. Back in 2001 I was wandering from Michigan in December and found myself on the road to Big Bend after sunset. Didn’t know exactly where I was but I noticed some very weird lights (really an illumination) low in the sky in the distance. Just kept driving and looking until they passed from view. Had never heard of the Marfa lights until afterwards. So- I’ve seen them- their real- honest.

    Enjoy Big Bend- it is a very spectacular place.

    • Thanks for the comment Neil, Big Bend is a pretty far way to wander from Michigan! But certainly a lot more hospitable in December I’m sure. We loved it!, movies coming soon …


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