First let me say this – Marfa is one oddball town. No disrespect at all – as I’ve been through my share of quirky areas in this country – but Marfa might take the cake. Heck, that goes for a lot of those small Texas towns throughout the southern Big Bend region (Alpine, Fort Davis, Terlingua and Presidio all stand out).

Marfa, population about 2,000, lies about a 60-mile drive in from the U.S.-Mexican border at Presidio. It’s the county seat of Presidio County (despite the town of Presidio holding the name and being twice the size). Towering over Marfa at the corner of Lincoln and Highland is the county courthouse, built in 1886. Just nearby is the Hotel Paisano – a 33-room outfit that just happens to be listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and is a Texas Historical Landmark. The hotel has boarded celebrities – including James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and the rest of the cast of 1955’s Giant during filming.

Oh yeah – and what about those crazy lights that Marfa is probably most known for? I’ll get to that in a sec…

The Presidio County Courthouse in Marfa

So naturally, we picked the only place in town a Weekend Roady would stay – the James Dean room at the Paisano. The room – purported to be the exact one Dean stayed at during his final film role – was small but nicely tailored, European style. The quirks were evident from the get-go. The shower was no more than a curtain as the water hit the drain on the tiled bathroom floor. The door wouldn’t close unless slammed. The steel work table adorned with wine glasses. The view of the back alley and someone’s backyard, their old van and three restless dogs. When the winds howled that night – and boy did it howl – embers from the lit torch under the balcony swirled around wildly. I loved every bit of it – except fearing that the place might actually catch on fire…

Front door of the Hotel Paisano

While Marfa has a few eateries – including one right inside the Paisano – we decided to hit up the only fast food place in town, Dairy Queen. While I’m sure to be flamed for skipping Pizza Foundation, we felt a couple orders of the chicken strip basket was the way to go. Even better, one of the orders turned up chicken fried steak by accident. While Breeah hated it, I couldn’t help but indulge on one of my favorite guilty gut-busters, gravy and all.

Lobby area of the Hotel Paisano

But that’s not why you’re reading. It’s those lights I mentioned in the title. Yes, the famed Marfa lights which have existed on a semi-nightly basis about 8-9 miles east in an area known as the Mitchell Flat. There is an official viewing platform, constructed with the help of local students, right off the highway for those curious enough to stop by, wait and watch.

The James Dean Room

Honestly, I was kind of thinking how stupid and dangerous it could be to hang out in the pitch black of night off some remote Texas road waiting for some silly lights to show up. Let me quell those fears – it’s not as sketch as it seems. This is a major attraction if your in the area, and it seemed plenty of curious passerby’s were stopping here tonight. We met two older couples, one from Wisconsin and the other from New Mexico amidst a few other people looking for the lights.

Upon receiving the keys you are instructed to keep these on you at all times as the doors don't stay unlocked - that is, if you can close them!

Upon arrival one can really see only a red light which, for whatever its real intent, can be used as a reference point for the “real” Marfa lights. Further off in the distance one can see what appears to be headlight-type lights and these can easily be shrugged off at first. In fact, there are probably cars driving out in the distance, seeing as there is Highway 67 which heads towards Presidio (and also branches into the very lightly used Ranch Road 169). But then some strange things start happening…

The Marfa Lights Viewing Station, from the back. Photographing the lights wasn't really possible, not to mention distracting to viewers.

I honestly thought headlights when another group that was there commented on the dimly lit “orbs” as being the Marfa lights. They left, assured that they had witnessed them. About ten minutes later, as we dug deeper into the seven o’clock hour and the sun was firmly set, a few more lights appeared, some grouped together as two or three, some by themselves. Upon looking into the provided telescopes one could see that this lights weren’t really moving much and appeared to be solo. Then they start to literally dance – swaying and swooping around. At that point I was a believer!

If they are headlights - or even if they aren't - they might be coming from around this area of Highway 67 which twists and turns enough to create the illusion of moving lights in the distance...

Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, it’s hard to say what I really saw. Yes, headlights still seem the most plausible answer – though the road to Presidio, at that time of night, is fairly lightly trafficked. Another plausible explanation would be some sort of atmospheric event – which is certainly possible (the same effect happens in Michigan and North Carolina to name a couple). Obviously true believers would hope for a more paranormal cause, like ghosts or UFOs. To satisfy all camps, I could only say that what I saw is left unexplained to me. Maybe a brave soul traversing the Mitchell Flat at night can chase down an explanation. If you happen to visit and don’t see the lights – take heart in that you will most likely get one of the best jaw-dropping views of the galaxy. A clear night will net you the entire Milky Way – not a bad consolation prize at all…

Below is an interesting documentary I found on YouTube regarding the lights. Someone also uploaded the original Unsolved Mysteries broadcast. I’d love to see a major cable network cover the lights mystery a la Animal Planet’s Hunting for Bigfoot.

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