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"marfa lights: the ghost lights of texas"
by lulubelle may

no where on the face of the world is the sky as big and blue as it is on a hot summer day in texas. and near big bend, 500 miles away from the city lights of dallas (or "the big d" as locals call it) the night sky stretches farther than the imagination. just like in the song, the stars are so big and bright you feel as if you could reach out and touch them, even as a coyote howls in the dark desert. this alien landscape is home to more than just rattlesnakes and cacti, it also is one of the best places to see eerie "ghost lights."

just outside of the tiny west texas town of marfa (population just over 2,000), visitors pull off the side of highway 90 and wait until dusk, when the mysterious lights inevitably arrive. in search of these marfa lights, i grabbed my binoculars, tape recorder, and sleeping bag and headed down for the night. neither my cell phone or my radio could get a signal this far in the middle of nowhere, but it wasn't going to stop me from investigating the phenomenon.

according to local lore, the first settlers in marfa in 1883 saw the lights, long before automobiles or highways. the indians living on the land for a hundred of years previous saw them too. now people flock to the sight hoping to catch their own glimpse, and on a clear night, no one leaves disappointed. some people believe the lights to be ball lighting or swamp gasses. others think they are benevolent spirits of the land. some even think they are alien spaceships. scientists can only prove that they exist, not what they are or where they come from. some groups chase them in their dusty trucks and suvs trying to catch the lights, but like the end of the rainbow, they prove elusive.

i parked my van on the hard clay where hundreds have parked before. with my canteen and a nice camping chair in tow, i settled in at about 6:15 pm, with dusk just around the corner. by eight o'clock, the sky was getting dark and i was no longer alone. six more cars were parked next to me and over a dozen people stretched out on the ground or in their chairs, talking softly and waiting patiently as if we were all on hallowed ground waiting for a miracle. suddenly, our faith was rewarded when a glowing ball of light appeared just above the horizon. it wasn't a star or headlights. it didn't crackle like lightening or waver like swamp gas. it stayed still for a moment, almost as if it were looking back on us, but it was impossible to tell if it was a hundred yards or a hundred miles away. then it bobbed to the left, flickered and disappeared.

everyone let out a collective sigh, not even noticing that for the thirty or so seconds that the light was glowing that we had all held our breath. someone whispered that it was beautiful. a teenager snickered, but was instantly silenced when the light appeared again. this time there were two of them, just to the left of where the first had flickered out. one was a little higher in the sky and minutely larger with more of a yellowish glow. they were joined by a third orb that was even larger still. the new one moved left, the others moved right, then split. these lasted longer, almost a minute. they didn't look like animal eyes glowing in the darkness so much as balls of energy. if you tried to focus on them, they wavered almost like a mirage. then these lights flickered out.

for the next hour, nothing unusual happened. most of the crowd left, headed back to campsites and motels. two cars and myself remained. it was starting to get chilly so i put on my sweater and kept my eyes trained at the horizon. another half hour passed before one last small orb appeared. this one was orange and quicker than the others. it danced in the darkness for over two minutes before disappearing. by now it was late and my eyes had adjusted to the starlight to the point that i almost didn't notice how dark it was until i got up and tripped over my chair. i knew it was time to call it a night.

i got back in my van and headed away from the serenity of marfa and its inexplicable lights back towards civilization. no ufos landed or space creatures appeared, but what i witnessed was the very definition of alien. i left with the kind of peace you have after seeing a beautiful sunset or spending an afternoon sunbathing on hot sand. i didn't understand the marfa lights anymore than i had the day before, but it didn't matter. they defy explanation and that's the way it should be.


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