We Saw the Marfa Lights (And You Can Too)

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Man looking at the Marfa lights

Have you seen the mysterious Marfa Lights? You’ve probably heard of the synchronous fireflies that live in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

They draw so many visitors to the park that the National Park Service has implemented a lottery to view the spectacular synchronization light show.

Although the fireflies seem miraculous, science can explain the flashing light patterns. On the other hand, the Marfa lights in southwest Texas seem to have no explanation or reason. This light show happens during any season at any time. 

Let’s learn more about the Marfa lights and how you can view them as we did!

Where Is Marfa, Texas?

Located in Big Bend Country, the town of Marfa is the county seat of Presidio County. It sits at the junction of US Highways 90 and 67 just south of Fort Davis in southwestern Texas. 

You can also find three mountain ranges in the region. The Davis Mountains lie to the north, the Chisos Mountains to the southeast, with the Chinati Mountains to the southwest.

It’s a beautiful area in what’s left of the frontier land.

Marfa Texas sign

What Are the Marfa Lights?

Marfa, Texas, is most known for the Marfa Lights, which you can see on the shoulder of Highway 90, about 9 miles east of Marfa. 

These ghost lights are mysterious orbs of light that suddenly appear, pulsing on and off. Sometimes they’ll dart across the desert vegetation instead of remaining stationary.

The unexplained phenomenon draws people from all over the world. Accounts began in the 19th Century and continue today as visitors and residents have witnessed varying hues and random occurrences.

What Are Possible Explanations for the Marfa Lights?

Not everyone believes the Marfa lights are mysterious, unexplained happenings. Many academics believe the lights come from the headlights of vehicles on the nearby US Highway 67.

Others explain that the Marfa lights are just an optical illusion created by light refraction caused by layers of air at different temperatures.

Retired aerospace engineer James Bunnell has a different theory. He explains that “the Marfa Lights are the result of the igneous rock under Mitchell Flat that creates a piezoelectric charge.”

This means the intense pressure of solid matter could generate electricity which can form these sparks of light.

Either way, there is no set-in-stone answer as to what the Marfa lights are.

When Was the First Recorded Sighting?

In 1883, Robert Ellison, a cowherd, was driving cattle through Paisana Pass and noticed a strange flickering. He thought it might be a campfire, but upon an investigation, he found no evidence of ashes or a campfire.

Two years later, in 1885, Joe and Anne Humphreys reported seeing the Marfa lights. Their account is in Cecilia Thompson’s book “History of Marfa and Presidio County, Texas 1535–1946.”

In 1957, the first published story of the Marfa light appeared in the “Coronet” magazine.

Numerous television shows have featured the Marfa lights, and this phenomenon has also inspired songwriters. 

“Unsolved Mysteries,” “King of the Hill,” and Disney’s “So Weird” have mentioned the lights. A Simpsons episode from 2019 included a family visit to Marfa, where Lisa tries to explain the occurrence.

In addition, the Rolling Stones mention the “lights of Marfa” in “No Spare Parts,” and country music artist Paul Cauthen wrote “Marfa Lights” for his 2016 album.

Tips to See the Marfa Lights 

We have a few tips if you’re interested in catching a sighting.

However, it’s important to note that the Marfa lights are unexplained and irregular. It doesn’t matter the season or temperature. You never know when a sighting will occur.

Go During Sunset 

Locals say to go during sunset. Other people have reported sightings during the day and at night, but if you stay about an hour after sunset, you might see the flickerings.

Get to the Viewing Area Early for a Good Spot

Like many popular attractions, the viewing area gets crowded. If you want to find a spot to set up a camping chair or lay out a blanket, go early.

You’ll be disappointed if the lights appear and you were too late to get a good viewing spot.

You can even stay at the viewing area overnight as we did. It’s a great stop as you’re passing through this small town.

Our RV set up to see the Marfa lights

Pro Tip: Love scoring those free camping spots? Check out the 7 Free Camping Apps Everyone Loves to Use!

Look Near and Far for Red, Blue, or White Lights  

Remember, the lights could be stationary, pulsate, or dart across the desert. Keep your eyes peeled and bring binoculars.

According to eyewitness accounts, look for red, blue, or white lights.

Personally, we saw flickering white and light blue lights in the mountain range far in the distance.

Keep an Open Mind & Have Fun

Are the Marfa lights real? Something happens to create these lights. Is it an unexplained natural phenomenon? Maybe or maybe not.

While no one knows exactly what the lights are, the experience is still fun to share with family and friends.

We love telling folks that we had the pleasure of seeing the Marfa lights, even if we don’t know exactly what they were.

View of the Marfa Lights
Zoomed in photo we took of the Marfa lights

Other Things to Do in Marfa, Texas

When it’s time to visit Marfa, Texas, the lights aren’t the only fun experience. They certainly bring in the crowds, but you can enjoy other activities in this southwestern Texas town.

Attend the Marfa Lights Festival

The annual Marfa Lights Festival happens every September at the historic Presidio County Courthouse. It’s free and open to the public.

The festival has a Saturday parade, live music and entertainment, Sunday morning Zumba, and various retail and food vendors. It’s fun for the whole family!

Take a Ride in a Marfa Glider

Did you know that Marfa is well known for the soaring competition that has occurred here over the decades?

If you want to take a glider flight, Marfa Gliders offers rides and lessons for guests to experience the beauty above the Davis Mountains and Big Bend Country.

These rides are by appointment only, so email marfagliders@aol.com for rates and availability.

Enjoy Wine Tasting at Alta Marfa Winery

This small winery in Marfa makes unique wines with grapes grown by farmers in Texas and New Mexico. The winery is only open on Fridays from 3 to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 7 p.m.

Enjoy a tasting flight, an individual glass, or a bottle and snacks during your visit.

Keep in Mind: These Wine Glasses are perfect to bring on your next camping trip!

Snap a Picture in Front of the Prada Marfa

The Prada Marfa is a sculptural art installation by artists Elmgreen & Dragset. Located along US Highway 90, it’s about 26 miles northwest of Marfa. 

Inaugurated on Oct. 1, 2005, the sculpture resembles a Prada storefront and even has two large windows displaying actual Prada wares, shoes, and handbags. 

Rae standing outside of Prada Marfa

Visit Minimalist Donald Judd’s Buildings

If you’re an art lover, you’ll appreciate the art created by renowned minimalist Donald Judd. In the 1970s, he moved to Marfa and purchased several buildings for art installations.

You can visit the Chinati Foundation and Judd Foundation and tour his large-scale architecture projects and other exhibitions.

Will You See the Marfa Lights the Next Time You Pass Through Texas?

The Marfa lights phenomenon has no conclusive explanation, but they’re worth seeing if you’re passing through southwest Texas.

It’s a cool experience if you happen to catch a sighting, but even if you don’t, the anticipation and excitement are enjoyable to share with family and friends.

Plus, the town of Marfa is a cute place to hang out for a day. What will your explanation be if you get lucky and see the Marfa lights?

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