27 December 2005

Marfa lights explained; Texas folklore a little poorer

Many years ago, I took a trip to West Texas with a friend to attend the Cowboy Poetry Festival. (During the long drive, I passed the hours when I thought she was asleep softly singing to myself. Unbeknownst to me, she thought I was doing the standard serial-killer-mutters-to-himself-before-offing-the-passenger thing, and was plotting ways to escape before I could put my nefarious plans into action. Luckily for our continued association, her good sense got the better of her. But I digress.)

One thing she wanted to see in West Texas was the Marfa Lights. Yeah, I didn't know what they were either. From the Wikipedia:
Marfa may be most famous for the Marfa Lights, visible every clear night between Marfa and the Paisano Pass as you face southwest (toward the Chinati Mountains). According to the Handbook of Texas Online, "at times they appear colored as they twinkle in the distance. They move about, split apart, melt together, disappear, and reappear. Presidio County residents have watched the lights for over a hundred years. The first historical record of them recalls that in 1883 a young cowhand, Robert Reed Ellison, saw a flickering light while he was driving cattle through Paisano Pass and wondered if it was the campfire of Apache Indians. He was told by other settlers that they often saw the lights, but when they investigated they found no ashes or other evidence of a campsite."

Investigations both on foot and by aircraft have failed to discover the source of the lights, and although theoretical explanations abound, they remain a mystery.

The county has set up a viewing area nine miles east of town on U.S. 67 near the site of the old air base.

These objects have been featured in various media, including the TV show Unsolved Mysteries.
Now a bunch of killjoy scientists say they've explained the Marfa Lights. According to them, the lights are simply car headlights from a distant highway.

I'm not so sure. For one thing, it would be hard to square that explanation with the lights I saw; for another, how many car headlights were there in 1883?

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