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.
Chances 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.