The Writing Traveler: What are the Mysterious Lights above Marfa?

The lights appear regularly in the night skies of Marfa and have done so fo a long time. Photo:

No one has ever explained the unearthly Marfa lights. They light up and run across the mountains like a grass fire.

The truck driver saw no reason to be frightened. He didn’t believe what he had seen with his own eyes anyway. He poured down a cup of coffee and ordered another, then bought a pack of cigarettes even though he had never smoked before.

“Make the coffee a little stronger this time,” he told the waitress. “I want to taste the grounds.”

“You must have seen the lights,” voiced the Red Ball trucker from the far corner of the little all-night diner.



“I was headed up Highway Sixty-seven, coming out of Presidio.”

The Red Ball trucker nodded. “Maybe, it was a plane.”

“It was flying too damn low,” snapped the driver, who saw no reason to be scared.  He sipped on the coffee and chewed on the grounds.

“Maybe it wasn’t flyin’ at all.”

Caleb Pirtle

The truck driver knew he didn’t believe his own eyes, and now he wasn’t believing what he was hearing either. He frowned, stuck a cigarette with trembling fingers into his mouth, and struck a match. A gust of hot wind ripped through the front door. The match went out.

“Back in World War number two,” said the Red Ball trucker, “the army had an airbase out just east of Marfa. A bomber took off on a training mission one day and never returned.”

He paused. The truck driver reached for another match.

“Some people think those lights out there in the Chinati Mountains are the lights of that bomber still tryin’ to find its way back home,” the Red Ball trucker concluded, his words as emotionless as the clock behind the counter. The clock had struck ten-fourteen years ago and stopped. Time doesn’t mean a lot in Marfa, Texas.

The bomber may still be missing. But the lights, I’m told, were disturbing the holy peace of Marfa long before the army flew into those sun-blistered plains in the first place. They dance in the midnight shadows of the mountains, sometimes white, sometimes blue, sometimes orange. They confuse. They taunt. They are restless, wandering from the Chinatis to the Cienegas to the Dead Horse Mountains.

“They look like headlights in the sky,” some say.

“The old-time cowboys thought they were a rustler’s campfire.”

“They flare with the intensity of fire.”

“They’re dull.”

“They look like an electric light behind frosted glass.”

“They’re just weird,” said Haillie Stillwell, a former justice of the peace in Alpine. “The first time I saw them they scared me to death. They light up and run across the mountains kind of like a grass fire.”

No one has ever explained the unearthly Marfa lights. Rumor tries. Rumor doesn’t have a clue. Those dashing, daring young pilots who trained at the airbase during World War number two did their best to chase the lights down. Fritz Kahl recalled, “I could see them from my plane, a low glow, yellow and red, from the air. They moved around, but they didn’t move a great distance. They don’t chase you, and they’re nothing to be scared of.  Maybe the lights are a low-grade form of St. Elmo’s fire or static electricity. I only know that when you approach one of the lights, it disappears. It’s a lot like trying to catch a rainbow.”

Fritz Kahl never caught them. Some pilots would fly over the lights and drop sacks of flour. Later, when daylight covered the land, they found only busted sacks of flour, no trace of the lights at all. Around Marfa, you still hear the hushed tales of tragedy that many believe, although none can really prove. It all happened so many years ago.  Records were classified and simply filed away or thrown away. “Two soldiers went out in a Jeep to try and track the lights down,” I am told, “and they vanished right off the face of the earth. All that was ever found of them was a single wrinkled sock.”‘

According to rumors, passed along like gossip and gospel, two other soldiers grabbed a Jeep and headed out into the Chinati Mountains one night. Their spotter told them by radio, “You’re sittin’ right on top of the lights.”

“We don’t see a thing.”

There was a crackle of static, and the radio went dead. The soldiers were found in a smoldering Jeep, burned and scorched beyond recognition.

Another old-timer swore, “Two government scientists stumbled upon the lights.  Later, when the government finally found them, they were sitting out beside their Jeep, and their Jeep was burned to a crisp.”

“What did they say about the lights?”

“Nothing.”  He paused.  “Those scientists never said nothing again,” he said.  “At least they didn’t say nothin’ that made sense to anybody.”

“What happened?”

“They were stark raving mad and was cooped up in a sanitarium the last time I heard anything about them.”

“What did the government report on them?”

“The government don’t admit they ever even existed. They just shut up about it and they stayed shut up. I guess there are some things that it’s best to keep shut up about.”

Please click HERE to find Confessions from the Road on Amazon. The book is a collection of my travel stories.


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