Thursday, March 02, 2006

Twinkle, twinkle, little Marfa Light

The Marfa Lights viewing observatory

No, the Marfa Lights aren't cars. They might be bursts of methane gas. Or maybe they're the ghosts of the Conquistadors. Whatever. The important part is they're there. And when a random group of travelers show up to see them, it's a blast.

I don't have any pictures of the lights themselves. They're too far away and buried in the calm, deep desert night for my camera. Too bad, 'cause I'd love to be able to prove I saw them. The only way you're gonna believe is to see them yourself.

I arrived about half an hour before sunset, and watched an older couple walk around the ground in an unimpressed way, then return to their RV to wait. After checking out the little trail of information stations, there wasn't much to do but take pictures of the cheeky rabbits rustling in the grass. I was messing around later with one of the squeaky mounted binoculars when a sudden salutation in a Georgian drawl scared the beejezus outta me. Thus I met Michelle and Paul, who have been traveling across the country in a bus that runs on vegetable oil.

Yeah. Vegetable oil. Used oil, in fact, that Paul gets from Chinese restaurants. He walks in and offers to haul it off for free, and the confused owner usually says yes. Paul, a nice looking guy in his twenties and a UMASS tee, has managed to modify the fuel system of this old school bus to warm up with diesel, then run on the oil. Brilliant.

What was it Michelle called herself? A literary jock? Literary dork? Anyhoo, she's the one who aptly named the bus after Don Quixote's horse. Later in the evening, after many Lone Star Longnecks, she performed a rousing spoken-word version of Carl Sandburg's Grass. Very cool moment.

So we sat at sunset, longnecks in hand, waiting for something to happen on the horizon, exchanging stories. The RV couple came out of hiding after a while, and we all sat peering into the distance between us and the Chisos mountains, trying to find little dancing balls of light. We all established the given lights---a flashing FAA tower, the actual headlights of cars, and steady lights---so we could tell them apart from the real Marfa lights. Of course, every time a car passed, we perked up, and made endless jokes about the people running around in the distance with really big flashlights.

An amusing note for Texans: did you know that the lovely observatory pictured above was funded by Clayton Williams, who lost a gubernatorial race to Ann Richards after he made a joke about rape? A female relative of his was one of the first to write about the Lights way back when. Trivia-tacular.

The area to watch, at sunset

So we're yicky-yacking, drinking, having a ball, and just as we decide that it was worth the drive to see the sunset, the lady from the RV points at three lights that have appeared in the dim post-sunset. "Nah, those are cars," says her husband, and we all agree.

Until the one in front glides straight up in the air and starts going backwards.

Yay! The show has begun!

The Marfa lights look like balls of white light that occassionally change to green or red. They pop up well above the level of the road beyond (or well below) and then disappear. They sometimes seem to wander over to the west, then show back up where they were before. Often, they'd disappear for a while, then suddenly reappear in a cluster. One light was such a little showoff, I named him 'Disco Boy'. He liked to pop out really bright white, then twinkle red and green. He appeared several times through the night. At one moment, when several people had gathered, five lights appeared in a row.

I found myself not fretting over what the hell they were. There's a lot of theories, most of them very lame. My verdict was, who cares? The lights are playful, mischievious, and a great deal of fun to watch.

Cheeky Bunny

The three of us stayed the longest, as groups or couples came and went. Michelle took the task of pointing out the lights to newcomers. I especially loved the roudy group of retirees who sang 'Redneck Mother' for us.

The Egg Roll Lovin' Tour Bus

The very last family came around midnight. The lights had called it a night about half an hour before. They had just arrived, the mother hoping to catch them before they were due at a funeral the next day. Mom and dad had sleeping children draped over their shoulder. I'm really sorry they missed them.

Turns out Michelle and Paul are on their way to Carlsbad about the same time I am. I hope to see them there. Their company, the gorgeous sunset, and all the trimmings were enough to have enjoyed the evening, even if the Marfa lights really had been cars.


Blogger berly said...

it's aliens.

I remember the first time I saw them. I was with dad in the Westfalia, 16 degrees with the wind chill, gusts to 40. We pulled in to the lookout (which was then just a highway pull-out roadstop with a historical marker) around 9PM, popped the top of the bus, and waited. We finally spotted them around 11PM: red, sparkley, white, up, down, fading, zooming to the west, disappearing. Wish we'd had the Lonestar to keep us warm.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Japan-O-Matic! said...

I've been to Marfa THREE TIMES to see the lights and we didn't have no fancy viewing pavillion. We had to sit our asses *in the dirt* and wait. ;)

Marfa really has come a long way since then but I never thought I'd be thanking Clayton Williams for it! Still though, the glowing globes of dancing light are pretty cool. I always get a shiver when they first appear and I think it's because that no one has yet conclusively proven where they come from or even what they are. It's nice to know there are still a few mysteries in the world.

4:22 PM  

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