Ghost Lights in the Skies above Marfa

The ghost lights hang above the Texas desert outside of Marfa. Photograph: Texas Co-Op Power Magazine.
The ghost lights hang above the Texas desert outside of Marfa. Photograph: Texas Co-Op Power Magazine.

“IT SEEMS LIKE WE’RE GETTING CLOSE!” Winnie made an announcement to the other women in the car.”

“Good. I have wanted to do this for a long time,” Gwendolyn responded.

“Huh? Oh yes. This has is something I have always wanted to do. You mean we are almost there?” Neva asked.

“According to my calculations, it’s only five more miles. Seems like we have been riding forever.” Maudie agreed with the driver.

The four women in the car were headed toward Marfa, Texas, from their homes in Fort Worth. They had planned the trip for quite some time. They waited for good-weather months, not too hot, not too cold, and a time when roads would be safe and clear. They had saved their pennies in order to make an unhurried journey. The ladies ranged in age from sixty-seven to eighty-two. As they rolled through different types of Texas terrain they seemed to have donned certain caps. Eighty-two year old Neva was the philosopher of the bunch. Winnie, the youngest, at sixty-seven was the driver, and she probably had the best head on her shoulders and a sense of humor to boot. Maudie, often backseat-driver, was a self-appointed navigator and deep well of information—facts and figures. Gwendolyn was the agree-er. She agreed with everything, even if it was the opposite of the last thing with which she had agreed.

“Yep, this is one mystery I wanted to definitely witness before I die,” Neva said loudly to the group. Though loud, her voice was shaky and it always seemed to quiver. “If I get to see what we are coming to see, I can die happy.”

“Okay, Neva. Try not to die on us, now. If you do, wait until we have seen what we came for, okay? That way your final goal will be reached and ours will not be interfered with,” Winnie said to her friend. Then she cackled. Neva laughed back, pretending she had heard every word Winnie said.

“Uh huh, uh huh. I have had this event on my bucket list as well,” Gwendolyn agreed.

his_marker_marfa From Pecos, on Interstate 20, Winnie had aimed her car off on a side road, south. They had almost-whizzed through Fort Davis and were on the outskirts of the little town of Marfa. The previous day they had booked rooms by phone at the El Rancho Motel, nearby.

“I hope we have good results right off the bat,” Gwendolyn said.

“Me too, Gwenny,” Winnie said, but we are planning to stay for a fortnight, if it takes that long. Is everyone in agreement?”

“Uh huh, yes,” Gwendolyn, agreed.

“I am committed to that,” Maudie agreed. “I hope we are not disappointed in that time period.”

“Absolutely!” Neva exclaimed when Gwendolyn and Maudie turned to her for a definite response. “I have never been out here. This place is way out in the boondocks. Say, these Davis Mountains are lovely,” Neva added.

Maudie turned her eyes back to the atlas, her constant companion. “Remember all of the Bicentennial celebrations they had in the U.S. in 1976?” Without waiting for responses, she continued. “They had this funny TV show all summer long that year. Towns all over America did stunts and competed with each other. One of the best shows was when Monahans, Pecos, and Fort Stockton competed against each other. I can’t remember who won. I think it was Fort Stockton.”

“Say, I do remember that show. I think it was on every night. I wish I could remember the name of it. The three towns had a fierce rivalry and they did it special for the Bicentennial. I do recall that I had lived in Texas all my life but had never heard of Monahans until this show was popular,” Gwendolyn added.

“Well, Texas is a big state, after all, with lots of towns,” Winnie commented while keeping her eyes peeled for the motel. An air of nervousness came over the women when a car with two scruffy-looking men passed on the left. The men seemed to be giving them the once-over.

“That was kind of spooky,” Winnie said. “And, that is one reason I am driving this older car. It is very road-worthy, but it doesn’t look like we are wealthy or have any money at all. I thought if I drove my fancier car, we might come off as targets for robbers. These roads out here are sometimes lonesome.”

“Great idea. A wonderful ruse,” Gwendolyn agreed.

Neva had not really been paying attention to the conversation, but the scruffy men did not get by her unnoticed. “Good thing we are all packin’ heat!” The three other women laughed.

After they checked in at the El Rancho Motel on the outskirts of Marfa, the woman decided to splurge go out to a nice restaurant. They chose The Cochineal. As they entered the dining room they were surprised that a small town had such an elegant eatery.

“The high sheen on the furnishings is almost blinding,” Maudie commented. Sleek was a good descriptive word. White upholstered ultra-modern chromium chairs were positioned perfectly under gleaming rectangular table tops.

“Yes, and look at the interesting fabric hanging from the ceiling in waves. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this even in Fort Worth,” Gwendolyn added.

“Remember, girls. The date pudding is their specialty, so save room for that,” Maudie suggested to her companions after the orders had been taken by a smartly-dressed and accommodating waitress.

Three of them got the Pueblan Casserole, of tender chicken smothered in various pepper sauces. Neva had commented, “I better not get that. I don’t think my gall bladder could handle it. I think I will order the pan-seared barramundi, instead.”

After their coffee and date pudding they headed back to their motel rooms, to put on some really comfortable clothes.

marfa1 When it was good and dark outside, the four women, wearing warm-up suits, got into Winnie’s car to go for an excursion. They pulled into to an area called The Official Viewing Platform of Marfa.

“Looks like there is only one other car here besides us,” Maudie announced. “It’s kind of eerie.”

“I am glad we have our heaters with us, girls, and plenty of ammo,” Neva blurted out.

Maudie started in again with more facts. “I think we are right to start out here, but we may have to move before it is all over. They have done experiments from this vantage point and a 2004 Society of Physics Students concluded that the lights seen from this view park have a direct correlation with the traffic coming west on Highway 67. In other words, they debunked these Marfa ghost lights with scientific experiments. I don’t know if what we see here will be the real spook lights. I think they may be optical illusions.”

“Yeah, and we want to see the real lights, not reasonable facsimiles!” Gwendolyn voiced her opinion on the matter.

Winnie then made her own comment. “Yes, you are right, Maudie. Both the physics students and some scientists from Texas State University have all tried to debunk the Marfa lights. The scientists used spectrographic equipment and the results showed that most of the lights could come from refracted automobile headlights or small campfires, but we don’t believe that, now do we? We would have not gone to all this trouble if we didn’t believe some of them were real ghost lights. Texas history and folklore is full of the ghost light appearances long before there were automobiles in existence. It is possible this view park was built as a tourist attraction, for the town’s economy, but we all know real spook lights are out there somewhere. I don’t know about the rest of you but I am tired after our journey, so this is a good place to kill our first evening here, agreed? We will get out some maps and find some other possible viewing locations after we have rested up a bit.”

“Yes!” Gwendolyn was quick to agree. Tomorrow morning after breakfast we can go to our rooms and figure out where else to look.”

“After we get the feel for the area, we can ask some locals the best place to set up our own viewing,” Winnie added.

“Oh Lordy. What is that zooming right at us?” Maudie rolled down the car window as silently as she could.

“It is. It is a light coming right toward us. I think it may be a real spooklight!” Gwendolyn exclaimed this as a basketball-sized orb, glowing white, floated slowly from the distance toward the Official Viewing Platform. It stopped. It wobbled. It continued moving toward the view park. The ladies tensed up as the occupants of the other car opened the doors of their vehicle and got out. The ladies could hear these occupants making excited but hushed comments.

“I’m setting up my camera,” Maudie announced. They heard her fumbling around in the back seat for photography equipment she had brought. “I am using this tripod because it will have to be a long exposure. I need the long exposure because of low light. This will also probably cause a multiple exposures on the film, but that can’t be helped. I am not an expert with expensive equipment, after all.”

“I am going to try to take a video of it with my el cheapo video camera the size of a deck of cards,” Gwendolyn explained to the group as she exited the car. I will try to get it before you are set up, Maudie. I don’t want to get in your way.

While Maudie was setting up her equipment, the other women tried to snap photos with the little cameras they brought along.

“I never thought we would get results this fast,” Winnie admitted. “It is true, we didn’t start our trip out here until there was a bunch of confirmed sightings in a row, to better our chances, but this is unbelievable.”

The women gawked in amazement as the first glowing orb was followed by others coming toward them. Then a parade of smaller colored orbs approached.

“I am glad we got these pictures,” Neva said, when they were back inside the automobile. “If you got anything good, Maudie, remember you promised to make us a copy.”

“I got some images on my little camera,” Gwendolyn said, then added, “but they are not high-quality. Still, I am so glad to have them.” She played the images back over and over again on her camera. The car was filled with oohs and aahs as the woman viewed the images on their cameras.

“We will go to some more locations this week and see what else we can see,” Winnie suggested. “This was pretty exciting, but what we saw is probably what the scientists have debunked. Yet, they looked very real to me. I think if we go to some different locations we might see something more mysterious, don’t you?”

The next morning after a breakfast at Buns and Roses, the four ladies snooped around in the town of Marfa. They jotted down notes from locals about the best authentic viewing places. Some of the locals did seem to scoff at the view park location. They hinted that there were far better places for viewing the mysterious Marfa ghost lights. Winnie took mental memos and Maudie made marks in her atlas.

“Is that those two guys that passed us on the road?” Maudie asked her friends as she tried to gesture secretively.

The women turned to see the same two scruffy guys buying some snacks at the Boyz2Men Taco Trailer. The ladies turned swiftly and walked into the shelter of Memo’s Café. Winnie tried to herd Neva along. She was still gawking at the men and muttering “I have some lead with people’s names on it.” They decided to duck in and get some light refreshment while they waited for the suspicious-looking men to leave the area.

When the coast seemed to be clear Winnie said to the group, “I think we should go back to our rooms and rest, sit at the pool or whatever. Then, tonight we will try out some different places for viewing. Sound okay?”

She did not get an argument from anyone. They planned to eat their supper at Jett’s Grill in the Hotel Paisano.   The historical building of Spanish architecture contained a Memorabilia Room, chock full of area history, a gallery, and a semi-famous ballroom they wanted to scope out.   They hoped the Memorabilia Room would have more information about the Marfa ghost lights—maybe some free pamphlets. The gallery and store may also have some mementos worth taking home. They thought they should try the highly touted Giant Burger or pistachio encrusted sirloin on the menu while they were there.

*     *     *

     “Now that was the real deal!” Maudie blurted these words as Winnie pulled her car onto the main road from a secret location a local had given her. The oldsters giggled like teenage-girls as they went through the memories on their cameras looking at their strange images of the Marfa mystery lights.

“We saw what we came to see!” Neva exclaimed.

“Now you can die happy,” Winnie snorted under her breath.

“It won’t be long before we can blow this town!” Neva growled.

“Yeah, we only used up one third of the time we thought it would take. I would still like to go to Fat Lyles, Padre’s Marfa, and Planet Marfa before we leave for good, wouldn’t you? And especially, Maiyas.” Gwendolyn hoped the others would want to go. They didn’t have anything else better to do.

When they got inside Maiya’s, they saw a sign that read, “Food first, then morality” –Berkholt Brecht. Maiya’s was the last stop on their list of things to do in Marfa. They would start home to Cowtown in the morning, but not before they had tried the Vodka Pasta at Maiya’s and partaken in the Raspberry Sorbet. They had seen the Marfa ghost lights on several occasions, now. The activity of the mysterious Marfa lights, witnessed by thousands, had first been reported in the 19th century, the first published account was in the July 1957 issue of Coronet Magazine. The sightings are unpredictable, maybe ten or twenty times a year. These ladies had been lucky.

Please click the book cover image to read more about Sara Marie Hogg and her books.


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