"Observations" on the Theories and Eyewitness Accounts

[Note: Over the years many of the referenced links on this page have become broken. Where possible the original link has been replaced with a link to an archive of the missing page/image at WAYBACK.ARCHIVE.ORG]

1.  From an ElbowCanyon.com archived page: elbowcanyon.com (Original link is broken, this link goes to wayback.archive.org):

Fig 12. 

(Fig 12 reduced in size for this page. Reprinted without permission, but legally permitted
for the purpose of this critique. Full size photo can be found on a separate page, see text)

(Photographer Todd Jagger describing his experience and his photo of the "Marfa Lights"): "We took some friends to see the Marfa Lights tonight. We've been having some incredible thunderstorms every night this week. I thought maybe I'd get some photos, hopefully with both the Marfa Lights and some lightning. Contrary to a number of skeptics' web sites the Marfa Lights are not headlights of cars. Looking at the lights with a pair of binoculars quickly confirms this. Nobody knows exactly *what* the Marfa Lights are but they are very real and often quite spectacular. The lights themselves were not very animated tonight, but they were bright, numerous and frequent. (They often move faster, turn colors, split into multiple lights and other interesting behavior.) In the photo above the red light point of light is the radio tower, the Marfa Lights are the two streaks of light to the right. This was a 16 second time exposure."

Observation: It's pretty certain this picture (Fig 12) is of cars on Highway 67. I have a lot to say about this photo, so much that I have dedicated an entire page to the explanation that this is simply a photo of car lights on Highway 67, with the added bonus that it has a lightning strike in the exposure.

But, before readers go to my explanation of how I can say (with a fair amount of certainty) that these are simply car lights, let me talk about what car lights should look like through binoculars. Across a flat prairie, through the thick, turbulent, often broiling atmosphere, 15 to 20 miles away they would appear vastly different than from, say 500 feet. Even though the resolving power of 50mm binoculars is theoretically capable of resolving car headlights at this distance, the atmospheric conditions destroy any chance of that happening. Astronomers have similar problems trying to resolve stellar objects in space. Earth's atmosphere, being in motion, almost always prevents a telescope from being able to resolve to its theoretical limit. Astronomers have a term for a broiling, turbulent atmosphere. They call it "bad seeing" or "poor seeing". Lights, many miles away across a desert terrain, will most often be badly distorted, discolored, and confused, especially if the ground is still hot from the sun.

I prove this photo is nothing but a photo of car lights on Highway 67 here: Todd Jagger's Marfa Lights Photo

2.  From: crystalinks.com: "Reports of evidently similar strange nocturnal lights in this area have persisted all through the twentieth century, and they continue today.  These reports often describe brightly glowing balls floating above the ground, or sometimes high in the air.  Colors are usually described as white, yellow, orange or red, but green and blue are sometimes reported.

The balls are said to hover at about shoulder height, or to move laterally at low speeds, or sometimes to shoot around rapidly in any direction.  They often appear in pairs or groups, according to reports, to divide into pairs or merge together, to disappear and reappear, and sometimes to move in seemingly regular patterns.  Their sizes are typically said to resemble soccer balls or basketballs. "

Observation: Just look at the above prose!  "... brightly colored balls", "floating above the ground", "balls said to hover", "resemble soccer balls or basketballs".   This is the sort of nonsense that makes the Marfa Lights so hard to intelligently assess.   Please, just once I'd like to see someone ask the party making these claims to describe the stars!  Describe Venus!  These observers would, no doubt, use the same terms!  No, Marfa Lights can not realistically be described as "resembling soccer balls or basketballs".   People!   If you have NO IDEA what you are seeing, and NO IDEA how far it is from you, then how can you have any idea how big it is or how high it is "hovering"!

3.  From an archive page: tafkac.org: Hallie Stillwell, in 1993, a resident of the area around Marfa, Texas, then in her 90's said: "I know of some people who saw them 100 years ago," says Hallie.  "So, I have an idea that the early Indians in this country and everyone else who came through saw those lights.  I know for certain the lights I saw then weren't auto headlights.  You know, there weren't too many automobiles going up and down the road in 1916!"

Observation: Think about this a minute.  Ms. Stillwell saw the lights in 1916, when she was around 14 years old. She was in no position, at that young age, to assess ANY distant light as man-made or not!  And the automobile was invented around 1886, and by 1916 there were tens of 1000's of  Ford Model Ts running all over the country on the established paths of horse drawn wagons and buggies.  (Ford alone by 1914 was producing over 1000 cars PER DAY). And, people in those days before the auto, believe it or not, were able to travel at night, using lanterns and and presurized oil lamps.  In actuality, Ms.  Stillwell had no evidence whatsoever that early Indians or anyone else "saw those lights" before the automobile was invented and she can't possibly be "certain" what she saw were not headlights, or at least, some man-made light.  One could certainly argue that even when wagons were still pulled by horses or livestock, the human drivers still had oil lamps and they could travel at dusk or dawn, and likely did since travel was slow and they most certainly occasionally got caught on the roads after sunset or were out before sunrise.  Ms.  Stillwell's observations are romantic, but pose no threat to the reality that ALL the observations of lights in the Marfa area which have come to be labeled "Marfa Lights" are likely simply man-made lights of one type or another. 

4. From: spartechsoftware.com: ...the Marfa Lights have been around a lot longer than the appearance of automobiles... 

(Note: MANY sites make this unfounded and ridiculous claim!  A little research will show that ALL recorded observations of the Marfa Lights have occurred since the appearance of the automobile and, even if automobile headlights were not the source in the late 1800's, man-made lights on wagons and buggies is certainly a more plausible explanation than "earth lights".)

Observation: The implication of this statement is that the lights could not possibly be man-made since the observations precede automobiles.  This is simply not the case.  Lots of people were in the area in the 1870's, well before the time-twisted observation of the "lights" by a young cowboy, Robert Ellison, in 1883. This from Cecilia Thompson's 'History of Marfa': "September 1870, An election was held at Fort Stockton to divide Presidio County into five precincts. The Chihuahua Trail traffic increased substantially. Lucrative trade had shifted from Santa Fe to San Antonio which helped open up the Big Bend region. Wagon trains wound down the valley where the Alamito River flowed. The Cathedral Mountains loomed in the distance to the southeast; the shadowy silhouettes of the Chinati Mountains to the west, and the far away spectre of the Chisos Mountains to the east. There were many wagon trains." The point is, at the time of the earliest observation of the "Marfa Lights", humans were in the area and fire, candle lampsIncandescent Mantle Pressure Lamps (the very first portable lamp to use a mechanism to develop pressure to force fuel oil into the burner was invented 1836 and by the 1880's such lamps were VERY BRIGHT)  kerosene lamps (invented in 1854), battery powered lights (invented in the 1890's) - ALL - preceded the automobile and were likely to be used, and visible, guess when - after sunset and before sunrise!  Even the parabolic reflector, which produces a narrow beam of light was invented long before the automobile - and the utility of putting a lamp in front of a parabolic reflector was clear - even in the 1800's.  Thus, the claim that observations of the Marfa Lights preceded the automobile is no argument that the lights are not man-made

5.  From: rootsweb.ancestry.com: "But there was another light that appeared off the highway, farther up, on a hill." 

Observation: OK, so lights are visible "away" from the section of Highway 67 where it is now understood, that headlights are easily visible.  Upon close examination of topographical maps of the area, you will find the entire span between the viewing site and the horizon across Mitchell Flats, while searching for "Marfa Lights", indeed, all the way to the Chinati Mountains, is littered with trails, paths, and dirt roads .  In other words, there are countless locations where people can be, with their cars, and their lights.  (I find it interesting that I found no other web site about the "Marfa Lights" which reveal this fact during my research in Dec 2004.  In Aug, 2005, I finally located a site which does acknowledge this.  See Observation 10, below); Thus, the simple fact that lights are seen away from Highway 67, is no justification to assume the lights are not man-made.

6.  From: rense.com, referring to a letter or an e-mail from a gentleman who took a picture of lights in the sky:  "Dear UFOTHEATRE, I took this picture (Fig 13) coming home from work on november 30th 2003 at 7:41pm.  I seen [sic] a strange cluster of lights in the sky and i [sic] stopped to see if i [sic] could find out what it was.  The lights were huge and bright orange and they were moving in and out of formations very tightly.  I flagged down another car to see if someone could say what these were but the man and woman who i [sic] talked to were also curious and pulled of the road to watch these lights as they continued to move in formations.  I remembered i [sic] had my daughters [sic] camera and i [sic] got into the car and pulled it out to take a picture of it before they ALL VANISHED AT 1 TIME.  The objects were very strange and i [sic] have no idea what they were..  I know they were not military flares because military flares do not move around in the skies they simply fall to the ground.  These lights moved left and right at different speeds and they all seemed to act as if they were all controlled by some source as they would all disappear and reappear at the same time each time in various formations.  I snapped this picture of the objects in nightvision mode on the camera.  I was driving on highway 67 just east of Marfa Texas..  Do you think these were ufos of some type or could these be the famous marfa lights?!?  Thanks for your time.

Observation:  Here is the photo: 

Fig 13.

(Note: So many people link to this image, above, without referencing that it is completely debunked here, that I decided to insert the tagline shown, directly on the photo.)

There are multiple problems here.  First, the man admits he does not have a clue what he is seeing.  Second, he gives no details of the observation point, only that he was "driving on highway 67 just east of Marfa Texas."  Third, he does not say if he was East or West bound, does not identify the precise location, does not identify the azimuth he was looking, does not identify the camera he was using (digital?, film?, video?), does not say if the camera has a zoom lens that he used or not to zoom in on the objects, and does not provide the length of time the objects were observed or the apparent distance they were observed to move!  Frankly, by the description he did provide, he has described a formation of military helicopters!  Absolutely nothing he said negates this.  Since the reported time was 7:41pm, on November 30th, the sky would have been very dark.  The apparent glow on the horizon is likely the last of dusk, enhanced by the camera's sensitivity.  But without some indication of the direction he pointed the camera, there is not much you can conclude about it.  The fact that he used the "night vision" mode, unbeknownst to the fellow, did absolutely nothing to improve capturing the image since the "night vision" mode of the typical consumer still camera or video camera simply illuminates the nearby scene with infrared light from an infrared Light Emitting Diode (LED), and has very little range (illuminated distance).  The "night vision" mode only served to illuminate the brush outside the window of the car.  Finally, these lights are clearly in the sky, clearly far away, not "huge" as the man describes, not on the ground where "Marfa Lights" are observed, and since the fellow could not identify them, then, yes, they were "UFOs" - unidentified flying objects - but not "little green men" or "space aliens" - simply "unidentified".  Unidentified, does not imply "of another world".  The probable explanation is these were helicopters in formation.  This sort of helicopter formation is very common.

Curious that this photo is described on the referenced site as an "Excellent Photo Of 'Marfa Lights'". It is anything but.

7.  From an archive file:   theoutlaws.com (while describing the results of an experiment in July, 1989 to rule out observations of headlights from Highway 67): "The investigators used special cameras and night-viewing equipment.  At midnight, an unknown light appeared past the right marker light in the middle of the empty Mitchell Flats.  Contacting the technician at the marker by radio indicated there was no traffic on Highway 67.  The ghostly globe was recorded on a video camera.  Observers were certain the light did not come from a man-made source.  It disappeared and came back and faded again."

Observation:  Again, upon close examination of topographical maps of the area, you will find the entire span between the viewing site and the horizon across which one is looking while searching for "Marfa Lights", is littered with trails, paths, and dirt roads.  In other words, there are countless locations where people can be, with their cars, and their lights.  As unlikely as it might be for there to be human activity in the middle of Mitchell Flats around midnight, it is certainly not outside the realm of possibility - (and far more likely than anything else).  Describing the light as a "ghostly globe" is nice for dramatic prose, but serves no purpose as proof the observers were "certain" the light did not come from a man-made source.  A light can "disappear and come back and fade again" by a person moving about in front of the light between the light and the observer or the light itself being obscured by brush or terrain as it moves along the ground.

8.  From:  pastlifetimes.net: "The over-the-counter skeptic simply scoffs and flatly insists that the Marfa lights are just headlights seen in the distance along Highway 67.  How these lights somehow lift off the road, change their color, size and shape, and simultaneously swirl and dart in a multitude of directions above and in front of the mountain range that serves as a backdrop for the spectacle is something neither the skeptic, nor anyone else who has their own enlightened theory, cares to address."

Observation:  I'm not sure what an "over-the-counter skeptic" is, but I am quite happy to address this comment.  I wonder if the writer of this prose is aware how stars twinkle or how a mirage works or has ever seen the shimmering of distant objects through hot air close to the ground?  Observations of these phenomena could also be described using the exact same words!  "Swirl", "dart", "change color and shape," etc.  Fact of the matter is that it is entirely plausible and quite likely that, given the topography of Mitchell Flats, and the weather and atmospheric conditions at the time of observation, car headlights could appear to do all sorts of things outside normal experience.  After all, the area is very flat, the headlights are very close to the surface, very far away from the observer, and the light from the headlights is passing through the thickest, densest part of the atmosphere, close to the ground and that same mass of air can be varying in temperature and density and index of refraction across the entire line of site!  The fact that a light in the distance, under such conditions, does seemingly "weird" things, should not surprise anyone.  Yet, exactly the opposite seems to happen when the observation of such phenomenon is associated with Marfa, Texas!  People quickly toss out what should be common knowledge about how light behaves when observed through a turbulent air mass, and conclude instead: "Oh my!  It must be aliens."

9.  From:  earthlights.org: "Some skeptics mistakenly claim that because a valid explanation exists for some of the observations, that it explains all of the observations.  Skeptics have ignored other compelling facts such as that the lights appear in areas other than along highway 67.  Lights appear in the sky and low on the ground in all directions, and there have been many close up eyewitness encounters including some lights following cars, light aircraft, and even military aircraft.  Also commonly overlooked is the fact that reports of lights in the Marfa area date back hundreds of years, long before the automobile or even electricity was invented.  Legends date back to Native American lore, surveyors, and prospectors in the area.  Some eyewitnesses observed them at very close distances, reporting details such as dust-like disintegrations directly overhead.."

Observation:  Actually, the claim that a valid explanation exists for some of the observations is indicative that, most likely, there are valid explanations for other observations, not that it explains "all of the observations."  A valid explanation as to how an observed light might be man-made is something you should actively look for first - not complain about the fact that another sighting was identified as man-made.  (Darn those man-made lights!)  As to the lights appearing in areas other than along highway 67, see # 3, above.  Lights in the sky, close to the ground and in all directions does not mean they are not man-made!  Show me a credible, "close up eyewitness encounter".  Please!  Show me something credible.  I am open to evaluate the data.  Saying there have been "close up eyewitness encounters" without substantiating data is worthless.  Come on - reports of lights in the Marfa area dating back hundreds of years?  Show me one such report.  The link to "Native American Lore" cited in the paragraph above (earthlights.org) says nothing about sightings of lights in the Marfa area hundreds of years ago.  All it says about Marfa, TX is a supposed tale about an indian's ghost.   The entire citation is nothing but wild speculation about "earth lights". BTW, "automobiles" were "invented", "electricity" was "discovered".

10.  (Note: After seeing the following, Mr. James Bunnell, owner of the "Night Orbs" web site, changed his web pages, to answer many of my observations described hereunder. Unfortunately, though Mr. Bunnell now shows, in some cases, the original photo from which many of the "Marfa Lights" on his pages are cropped, he still provides no evidence that can be argued shows the lights are not man-made. Some of the references below are to the original text on his site, but I felt it important to retain the original context of the information.)   From:  nightorbs.net (original link broken, this links to wayback.archive.org), the "Night Orbs" site where retired aerospace engineer James Bunnell advertises his book: "Skeptics claim that what people call Marfa Mystery Lights are nothing more than car lights on Highway 67.  There is some truth to that statement.  Looking southwest from the Marfa Lights View Park (MLVP) it is possible to see automobile lights (Above and right of the red flashing telephone tower) nightly and to the uninitiated they look plenty mysterious because terrain obstructions cause them to turn On and Off and grow brighter where the road comes into better alignment with the MLVP.  Below is a time exposure taken at night that reveals where vehicle lights come into view.  On a dark night you will see only individual car lights turning On and Off, varying in intensity and maybe even jumping up and down because no human can hold their head completely still."

Observation:  Mr. Bunnell's text on the cited page, above, is followed by a spectacular time exposure photograph of the distant Chinati Mountains with car lights captured showing their path along Highway 67 - exactly as a topographical map of the area reveals they would appear.  Unfortunately, Mr. Bunnell's page comes with a strong caution that his "Images and text are protected by copyright.  Copying is prohibited." (Actually, I've reproduced his entire text, in quotes, above so I can write a critique.  Copyright law permits this.  But, I will, in deference to Mr. Bunnell's wishes, not reproduce his images but simply link to them.)

Much thanks goes to Mr. Bunnell who provides the clearest, most concise description of the observation of cars on Highway 67, and of the presumed 'real' Marfa Lights on his site, though very brief - he does not want to say too much lest you won't buy his book.  Let's discuss what Mr. Bunnell provides on his site.  (Note: The following text describes images and Mr. Bunnell's descriptions on his site which have since changed.)

On the cited page, above, Mr.  Bunnell acknowledges that cars are readily visible on Highway 67 in the Southwesterly direction from the observation site.  Mr.  Bunnell does not comment on the fact that many, if not, most of the "Marfa Lights" sightings are, in fact, nothing more than these headlights on the highway.  The most he says is "there is some truth to that..."

In the photo Mr. Bunnell provides on his page, he says "Other lights seen above Hwy 67 are usually vehicles on Hwy 2810 or various ranch roads." Much thanks goes to Mr. Bunnell, for his is the first site I've encountered regarding the Marfa Lights which acknowledges there are other places out there for humans to be - with their lights.  (Mr.  Bunnell has long since removed his photo, but it is located here: (opens in a new window to wayback.archive.org) nightorbs.net/.../image002.gif.  It is really good, go take a look at it.)

Mr.  Bunnell's really interesting stuff is on two other pages on his site.  His "Mystery Lights 1" , and "Mystery Lights 2" (both link to wayback.archive.org), pages are worth looking at because he shows photos of other lights which he refers to as the "real" Marfa Lights, which he says happen only "about 30 times a year".  On his "Mystery Lights 2" page he says these 'real' Marfa Lights are seen to the Southeast of the official observation sight (not to the Southwest, toward Highway 67) and "Even skeptics have difficulty dismissing these as car lights." This is true!  These images cannot be readily dismissed as car lights.  But, that does not imply they are not man-made.  It also does not imply they can't be dismissed.  They can.

Mr. Bunnell can't describe on his web page what he thinks these images are, remember, he'd like you to see what he has to say in his book, but I can!  Let's talk about this one (from Mr. Bunnell's site) (links to wayback.archive.org): nightorbs.net/.../image002.gif.  This image, about which Mr. Bunnell says: "Time exposure captured during shooting of the TV program, "Miracle Hunters," for Discovery Channel.  Notice the light track of a small light ball ejected near the left end (beginning) of this display." From the photo, and the description, we can determine 1) it is clearly a time exposure, and 2) it is different than the usual photo of car headlights.  That's about it.  Where Mr. Bunnell says "small light ball ejected" we see simply the artifacts left over from the motion of a light during a time exposure, or more likely motion of the tripod when it might have been bumped.  In the photo below (Fig 14), which I took decades ago, we see similar artifacts and this is simply a hand-held long exposure of a police car, lights blazing, as it passed by:

Fig 14. 

Using Mr. Bunnell's method of describing this photo, we would say "...the blue light ball near the top ejected and traveled on its own..." But of course, we would be wrong.  The point is that the photo of the "Marfa Light" is simply the recorded, cumulative path of a light.  Nothing stands out indicating any "light ball ejected".  We simply don't have enough detail to make any further analysis, except to observe that, mysteriously, the path of the light follows the apparent shape of the terrain.  Imagine that!  Surely no man-made light would be expected to follow the terrain!

I know this is getting long, but this is worth the space, so let's continue.

A second image from the "Mystery Lights 2" page is found here (opens in a new window to wayback.archive.org): nightorbs.net/.../image005.gif. This photo is described as "Two MLs dancing".  ("MLs" is Mr.  Bunnell's preferred nomenclature for a "Marfa Light".) Notice there is no evidence in the photo that this was "2" separate lights.  Mr.  Bunnell provides no evidence as to why he thinks this is 2 separate lights.  I notice, however, that the time exposure looks peculiarly like what one would expect to see if 1) you were a great distance from the lights and 2) the light was on a vehicle which was "burning rubber" in the desert.  You know what I mean.  Some idiot out there accelerating quickly and turning figure-eights on the surface.  The photo shows the lights clearly brightening as the vehicle is turned toward the camera and fades as it turns away.  Notice also that the path of the light, as in the previous photo, appears to follow the terrain.  The impression that the light on the right side is "above" the other is easily, and logically explained as the vehicle making a large arc on the ground, one end of the arc higher than the other end due to the terrain, and the arc the vehicle created is foreshortened in the captured image since the camera is looking across the ground in very nearly the same plane as the vehicle is moving.  Sorry, but this image is easily dismissed. 

And one more:

Mr.  Bunnell's image at: nightorbs.net/.../image008.gif.  (links to wayback.archive.org), is rather tersely described as "resuming spiral" or "decay pattern".  I see no spiral in this photo, or anything I'd agree could be described as a 'decay pattern'.  I do see evidence of perhaps a trail of smoke surrounded by a couple of forming smoke rings.  It would be nice to see photos of this seconds or fractions of a second later to see exactly what the bright spot at the top looked like at a later instance.  This photo may be evidence of something being shot from a cannon, and perhaps is the result of nothing more than some pranksters in the desert, trying to create a Marfa Light!  Notice that if you look carefully, the 'trail' of the 'smoke' seems to go all the way down to the lower right all the way to the 'sp' in the word 'spiral' on the photo.  Squint as you look at the photo and it becomes more apparent.  Well, at least in this photo the light does not simply follow the terrain!  Dismissed.

OK, since there is only one more image on Mr.  Bunnell's site worth talking about, let's do it:

The image at: nightorbs.net/.../image011.gif (links to wayback.archive.org), is described as a "core element in mystery light fireball." Huh? First, note that the image of the light is horizontal - apparently following the terrain (see a theme here?)  Second, note that the mottled track that looks, sure enough, like broiling fire, is EXACTLY what you would see when looking at a light from a great distance, through the atmosphere, close to the ground, on a hot summer evening when the atmosphere is very turbulent.  (Mr.  Bunnell apparently has never watched a bright star or a planet as it sets near the horizon shortly after sunset when the atmosphere is still very turbulent.  It looks "broiling" - exactly like the photo here.) The "gap" where the light is absent is likely brush, scrub, or a tree between the light and the camera obscuring the light, and the bright end point (since Mr.  Bunnell admits the motion was from left to right), is the light being turned more directly at the camera.  This shot, is probably highly magnified as the original image was likely quite small since the light was probably very far from the observer.  Also dismissed.

Boredom, not space, prevents me from discussing the other images on Mr.  Bunnell's other page: "Mystery Lights 1" (link above).  The images on that page are of single points of light against totally black backgrounds without any specifics as to time, date, exposure, duration, motion, or any other details apparently meant to show variety in the appearance of the lights but providing no value added.  Different colors.  Yawn.  No point in any discussion here. 

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