One of the reasons I love the RV lifestyle is the ability to experience the more unique parts of the country. Marfa might be like any other deteriorating town in west Texas, if not for the community of artists drawn to the isolated oasis, perhaps by the unexplained mystery of the Marfa Lights. The Marfa vibe is Instagram meets The Twilight Zone – quirky, beautiful, and heavily influenced by mid-century sci-fi.
Marfa is probably most famous for the mystery lights that appear on clear nights. These orbs have been documented for nearly 150 years and folk stories in the area extend about as far back as stories like this go. A rest area with a viewing platform is located nine miles east of town on US Hwy 90 and self-contained travelers are welcome to stay overnight.
I arrived from Lajitas mid-afternoon and Blue and I took the opportunity to walk around town. The on-street parking was ample, even with the trailer in tow. I just had to make sure I wasn’t blocking any driveways. I happened upon a holiday bazaar at the town square, complete with live entertainment. Unfortunately, I was unable to visit any of the many shops and galleries with Blue in tow, but the window-shopping was probably better for my wallet anyway. Many empty lots featured interesting piles of metal and it was quite to game to determine what was an art installation vs. what was abandoned scrap metal. I guess that can be a sort of statement on art itself.
Dining options in Marfa are surprisingly plentiful. One establishment even features burritos favored by celebrities. But I had been craving pizza for a while and picked up a pizza in one of the most beautiful boxes I have ever seen to take back to the rest area.
I arrived about an hour before sunset and therefore had my choice of spots. I would estimate about a dozen RVs, trailers, and vans ended up overnighting, and larger rigs might have had a problem if they came in after dark. I did have to use levelers to raise one side a couple inches, which is never a favorite feature of overnight spots, but the experience was worth the time. Blue and I walked around some of the footpaths in the area and then went back to bundle up for the main event.
Several other groups hid from the wind on the platform and scanned the horizon for anomalies. We weren’t exactly sure what we were looking for and there were several false alarms. As a birdwatcher, I of course had my binoculars in the trailer and retrieved them for a closer investigation of some possible suspects. With the help of the binoculars, we soon realized we were seeing the famous Marfa lights. Orbs appeared, disappeared, split apart, merged, and zoomed out of sight. The colors varied from orange, to blue to white and plenty of hues in between. As the evening wore on, and those who had enjoyed a dinner in town began to roll in, I assumed the temporary position of temporary Lights Mayor. Really, the consensus was that the binoculars were extremely helpful in orienting viewers to what they are looking for, after which it became much easier to watch the lights with the naked eye. It was quite a festive atmosphere with dozens of strangers marveling together. Eventually the cold outweighed the fun and it was wonderful to be able to retire to bed just a couple hundred feet away. Shockingly, despite the activity all night long, it was a rather peaceful place to sleep.
So what are the Marfa lights? Those who prefer to keep the mystery alive can skip this paragraph, but it does seem the natural question. Believers insist on explanations of aliens, spirits or fairies. Skeptics brush them off as highway lights or the scapegoat for everything pseudo-supernatural – swamp gas. But keep in mind that the lights predate electric lights and many curious travelers have attempted to follow the lights to their source, but no one has ever been successful. The most likely scientific explanation is that a confluence of hot and cold air causes a refraction of light over the curvature of the earth, not unlike a mirage. But even that seems like a pretty cool phenomena to me. I think believers and skeptics can unite in agreement that it is a pretty amazing occurrence regardless of whether the origin is natural or supernatural.
On the way out of town, I made a stop at the other famous Marfa attraction. The Prada Marfa is not an actual Prada location, but a sculptural art installation 26 miles west of town. A bit further outside of town lies the filming location of the movie “Giant”. I would put both stops on a list of must-dos for a trip through the middle of the desert, mostly because there is not much else to do. But take care to enter the locations on GPS because there is no warning of either site. Both arise almost instantaneously from the vast reach of ranch land, which is, in essence their charm.