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The Mysterious “Lights of Marfa”

Marfa Light
Marfa Light

Before sunset crowds gather at a small strip of Hwy # 90, about nine miles from Marfa Texas.  They are a blended assortment of individuals, youthful, old and each age in the middle. They come from near and far to congregate at this location peering into an infertile desert along the precipitous skyline.  First time guests don’t recognize what’s in store, however they all are here to see the puzzling “Lights of Marfa”.

At dusk a little sphere of light pops into view in the distance and the excitement intensifies. It bounces up and down. Suddenly another luminous sphere joins the first. “It looks like automobile headlights”, someone shouts, but just then the two objects separate, each moving in a different direction, unlike anything the eyewitness has ever seen.  More lights come into perspective, diverse hues, some floating, some stationary, winking or glimmering, voyaging together and apart. They vanish and return, merge and dance away in any course not with any pattern or predictability.

The strange wonder proceeds with well into the evening to the joy and cheering of the group.  I know I have seen them too.

The “Lights” are well known by  nearby inhabitants who have seen their wonderful events commonly.  “You can see them almost any clear night” they say.  The writer and his family personally visited the highway viewing area in May 1988 and encountered the strange showcase of lights after reading an advertisement imprinted on a table setting mat in an eatery in Marfa.  After all these years I still can’t tell what they are.

Marfa Lights observation outpost.
Marfa Lights observation outpost on Rt # 90.   Image by R.A. Rollinson

The first sighting reported  happened in 1883 when Robert Reed Ellison saw a flickering light while he was driving cattle mistaking it for an Apache Indian campfire. Ellison was informed by others they too often saw lights but when investigated found no ashes or evidence of a campfire. Over the next fifty years many other settlers observed the strange lights but no one could clarify them.


There have been a number of explanations proposed to provide answers of the mysterious phenomena. Ball lightning- electrostatic discharge, UFO’s, ghosts and mirages are the most common. Headlights and taillights of passing autos as well.

The mystery still goes on. Some say greater part of the sightings of the odd lights have been solved being the result of air inversion layers typical of a mirage of a local highway. However, I don’t feel that is all of the truth. How could an inversion layer cause the lights to drift substantially apart then merge?

It maybe a superior mirage of the most unusual case.

There are intriguing recordings but one needs to see the wonder in person as no one video captures the various colors, and positional aspects of ongoing observations.

A number of Marfa Lights are present in this image by RA McCandless
A number of Marfa Lights are present in this image provided by Bob McCandless

I know one thing — They didn’t have auto headlights in 1883 when Mr. Reed first initially attempted to report the Lights of Marfa.

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