Marfa, Texas

Marfa Mystery Lights

Where to stay | Things To Do | History | Ghost Lights of Marfa | Marfa Pillars


Location / Description

The small ranching community of Marfa is located on a Chihuahuan Desert plateau in the Trans-Pecos area of West Texas. Supported mostly by ranching, and more recently by tourism, it is surrounded by vast mountains and is Texas' highest incorporated city.

Marfa is known primarily for its famous Marfa Mystery Lights and as the location for the shooting of the classic movie "Giant," with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Dennis Hopper and James Dean.

Marfa also stands as a gateway to many exciting areas of West Texas and beyond, from the nearby border towns of Mexico, to Big Bend National Park, to the scenic drive through the Davis Mountains. In season, hunters are attracted by plentiful mule deer and pronghorn in the nearby mountains.

Population / Elevation

  • 4,688 feet above sea level / 2,316 people

Weather / Climate

At an elevation almost a mile high, Marfa has clear skies, temperate weather and the ideal atmosphere and environment for hiking, camping, golfing or wilderness exploration.


Established in 1881 as a water stop for the Texas and New Orleans Railroad, Marfa has played a significant role in the economic and military history of West Texas. It is said that the wife of the town's founder took the name Marfa from the Dostoyevsky novel, "Brothers Karamazov".

Ghost Lights

Nine miles east of Marfa, out on the Chihuahuan Desert at the base of the Chinati, Mountains, people gather to watch small, ethereal lights floating through the night air with no apparent source or explanation.

The Ghost Lights of Marfa, as they are now called, were first reported more than a century ago when Robert Ellison, one of the area's first settlers, witnessed these mysterious glowing orbs in 1883. But they apparently existed before that, for the local Apache are said to have believed the eerie lights were stars dropping to earth.

People gather here to watch small, ethereal lights floating through the night air with no apparent source or explanation.

Since then, this legend, and the fascination for these unexplained lights, has grown. What once was a local Texas curiosity has captured national attention, and thousands of visitors now flock to Marfa each year to view the Ghost Lights.

The Marfa Lights, mysterious and unexplained lights that have been reported in the area for over one hundred years, have been the subject of many theories. The first recorded sighting of the lights was by rancher Robert Ellison in 1883. Variously described as campfires, phosphorescent minerals, swamp gas, static electricity, St. Elmo's Fire, and "ghost lights," the lights reportedly change colors, move around, and change in intensity. Scholars have reported over seventy-five local folk tales dealing with the unknown phenomenon. - 1988

(State of Texas Road Marker)


Jay Sharp, in his book Texas Unexplained, writes about his encounter with one of the locals in Marfa.

"You're writing a book about stuff no one can explain in Texas, and you're not going to tell about the Marfa Lights?" asked Mr. Jefferies.

I had just met Mr. Jefferies. He walked through the white double front doors into the early morning coolness of the Rexall Drug, on the west side of Marfa's Lincoln Street, just after I did. He sat down at the counter, on the stool next to mine. "Mysteries, especially enduring mysteries like the Marfa Lights, evoke stories which define the human character. We try to explain mysteries with stories about things which concern and describe us as individuals. The longing for the reunion of separated lovers, families and communities. The consequences of betrayed faith. The sorrow caused by treachery and conflict. Fear of the unknown. Dreams of treasure always just out of reach. The good or evil of things we can't understand. Mysteries teach us about ourselves. That's why they are important."


Things To Do

  • Annual Marfa Lights Festival
    Held each year during the 3-day Labor Day weekend. For tickets and information, contact the Marfa Chamber of Commerce, 800-650-9696
  • James Dean Memorial
    Visit the roadside ruins of Reata, still standing on the nearby Ryan Ranch.
  • Glider Flying
    The Marfa Plateau in combination with surrounding mountains combine to create the thermals necessary for great sail plane soaring conditions. Enthusiasts from around the world travel here for the opportunity to fly in these skies, especially around Easter. Glider rides and lessons are available year around. Three national championship competitions have been held in Marfa. For more information call Marfa Municipal Airport at 915-729-3102. 1 800 667 9464



There are numerous hotel, motel and other accommodations in and around Marfa.

Camping & RV Parks

There are numerous camping and RV accommodations in and around Marfa. For more information, contact:

  • Marfa Chamber of Commerce
    Marfa, Texas
    Phone: 800-650-9696

Resources & Nearby Attractions


Cities & Towns

  • Alpine, Texas: 26 miles east.
  • Fort Davis, Texas: 21 miles north.
  • Marathon, Texas: 56 miles east.
  • Presidio, Texas: 59 miles south.
  • Van Horn, Texas: 73 miles northwest.
  • El Paso, Texas: 195 miles west.

Parks & Monuments

Recreation & Wilderness Areas

  • Pinto Canyon: 10 miles north.
  • Sierra Diablo Wildlife Management Area: 85 miles northwest.




Historic & Points of Interest

  • Marfa-Presidio County Museum
  • Ft. Davis National Historic Site
  • McDonald Observatory
  • Chinati Foundation Museum
  • Fort D. A. Russell
  • Presidio County Courthouse
  • U.S. Border Patrol Headquarters
  • El Paisano Hotel: In 1955 hotel served as base of operations for filmmaker George Stevens while filming the movie "Giant."
  • Marfa Pillars - An art installation to be built between US Route 90 and the Amtrak rail line.

Related DesertUSA Pages


Share this page on Facebook:

DesertUSA Newsletter -- We send articles on hiking, camping and places to explore, as well as animals, wildflower reports, plant information and much more. Sign up below or read more about the DesertUSA newsletter here. (It's Free.)

The Desert Environment
The North American Deserts
Desert Geological Terms


Enter Email:

Shop desert store



Copyright © 1996- and Digital West Media, Inc. - -