Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Marfa Mystery Lights

I did not spend the night at Judge Roy Bean's Visitor Center, but instead paid for a PA park in Marathon with this view to the south of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park.
From there I went to the Mystery Lights Viewing Center about 8 miles east of Marfa where you can spend the night in the large parking area and view the lights.
If you've never heard of the Marfa Mystery Lights, this sign explains a little about them.
The Viewing Center is pretty elaborate. It includes public restrooms, a viewing platform with binoculars, and a large park with walking paths and historical markers. There are also picnic tables and multiple trash cans.
 As you can see, I arrived during the afternoon. So after choosing a parking place, Thistle and I walked the paths and learned more about this place.
I learned about the various desert vegetation types in the Chihuahuan Desert. Thistle learned that little ground squirrels live here too. (Or some kind of furry critter) He also learned that some of these desert grasses have stickers that hurt his paws.

 A lot of interesting information is presented at the Center.
I learned about the surrounding mountains.
 The Paisano Plateau was formed by lava and ash from the volcano seen on the left that erupted 35 million years ago.
Cathedral Mountain can be seen in the Southeast.
I learned that an Army Airfield was located here during World War II.
 The remains of some of the Airbase buildings can be seen in the desert.
There was information about the town of Marfa.
 While we were walking, I picked up a large bagful of trash that was blowing around in the park and deposited it in one of the available trash cans. You gotta wonder about people...
 But back to the Marfa was almost time for sundown.
I'm watching for lights, but Thistle is watching for those little furry critters.
I was pretty sure the lights of sunset over the Chinati Mountains would be all that I would see, doubter that I am, lol.
But then a single light appeared high on a distant mountain. Then it disappeared and then appeared again...
 Then a second light appeared lower down.
 And it disappeared...
 And then there were two.
 And just one...
 And three!
Five way down low!
 More up high.
People were coming and going from the Viewing Center to watch the phenomena. One other RVer was spending the night.  I watched them from my RV using my binoculars and camera zoom. 
Just as the sign said, sometimes the lights were brighter, sometimes blended, or disappeared.
 I watched for about two hours, and began to see a pattern.
 All the lights seem to be following the same track.
 Starting at the top where I saw the first light, the lights traveled diagonally down the mountain until they appeared at the bottom in a straight flat line.
 Sort of like car lights along a highway...
 I looked on a map, and sure enough, Highway 67 comes north from Mexico over the mountains to Marfa. Hmmm... 
 Depending on the amount of zoom I used and the shake of my camera, the lights did look spooky.
Disappearing lights could be cars dipping behind a hill or foliage and reappearing farther down the hill. Brighter lights could be when cars were facing directly in my direction. Of course that doesn't explain what the ranchers and Indians were seeing over 100 years ago.
 The few times I saw red lights I noticed they were traveling in the opposite direction up the tail lights.
Suddenly the mystery for me became why there was suddenly so much traffic in this remote area, coming north on Rte 67 on a Sunday evening? And why would they build an elaborate Viewing Center for people to come watch car lights?
 The darker it got, the eerier the lights looked.
 So a few days later I asked the scientist at the McDonald Observatory about the lights. He confirmed that most lights seen nowadays are likely from car headlights.
 But he did acknowledge that atmospheric conditions can cause aberrations in light no matter what the light source...sort of like a mirage. So what we think we see, may not be what really is...
 So as my friend Teresa recommends, don't try to analyze them...just enjoy the experience.
In the morning I drove through the town of Marfa and stopped to take some pictures of their historic downtown.
The Palace Theatre was once the Marfa Opera House.

 Not sure what this building across from the theatre was.
 The historic Paisano Hotel.
Built in 1930, the main customers of the El Paisano during the 1930s and 1940s were area cattle ranchers who came to Marfa to buy and sell their herds, and tourists who came to West Texas for the benefits of the dry desert air.
In 1955, a Warner Bros film crew came to Presidio County to film Giant. The El Paisano Hotel served as base of operations for the months during which time the film was being shot in the surrounding countryside. 300 plus members of the cast and crew who included: James DeanElizabeth TaylorRock HudsonSal MineoChill Wills, and Jane Withers among others stayed at the El Paisano Hotel during filming.
This building now houses a bank and a restaurant, but I couldn't find any information about its origin as Brite Building, 1931. 

 Presidio County Courthouse
 Back past the pink fire station to my parking place along the street.
Marfa....the name itself evokes intrigue and mystery, don't you think?

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