A Travellerspoint blog

Chasing Marfa Lights in Pitch Black


With a huge plastic flashlight clenched between my teeth, I continued fiddling with the legs of my tripod in a struggle to level my camera. I tried to shield the excess illumination of yellow light so that I did not disturb the other visitors at the Marfa Lights Viewing Center. Except for a few red lightbulbs on the wall, close to the ground, I could not see anything other than occasional car headlights speeding across the highway.

The camera set up process (in almost complete darkness) definitely frustrated me, but when I looked up to the heavens through my camera lens, I quickly remembered why I came to Marfa in the first place. Thousands of stars decorated the unspoiled desert sky. And what a spectacular sight it was. My heart softened, and I changed my game plan: Instead of putting pressure on myself to take the best possible photos of the mysterious Marfa Lights, I decided to just have fun with my camera, no matter how the results turned out.


I started experimenting my camera settings, and I even purposely swiveled the tripod during 30-second long exposures in order to create artsy effects with car headlights and stars in the night sky. Hey, since I had not yet spotted the Marfa Lights, I decided to try to create my own special effects. Some photos came out grainy because I had to bump up the ISO very high in order to get stars to show up visibly in the shot. With some other shots, I felt pleasantly surprised by the cool swirls and streaks of light.

After a couple hours, my friend asked a man next to us if he had ever seen the Marfa Lights. A long-time local resident, the man said that, yes, he had seen the Marfa Lights, and in fact, he was looking at them right now. And there they were - my friend and I had been staring at them the entire time. Right in front of us. Low to the ground, three yellow lights (resembling stars or distant street lights) each seemed to subtly move in and out of the horizon (see photo below).


The entire time, my friend and I thought those lights were from a regional airport or some other kind of facility, partially because we could see a close by flashing red light (which itself is not a Marfa Light). That is the thing about the Marfa Lights, though. For many years, people have looked at the night sky around this area, and wondered "What is that?". Car headlights? Pranksters with flashlights? An unexplained phenomenon? I will say this: My friend asked several Marfa residents if they had ever seen the mystery lights, and most of them said yes. They all seemed to believe in the moving lights as a real wonder (and these folks all seemed very down to earth, normal people).

As I looked at the Marfa Lights, I felt puzzled. I am very glad that I got to see them, but it was not what I expected. Not that I knew what to imagine in the first place. I wish I could have stayed out there longer, and/or listened a professional speak at length regarding the features of the Marfa Lights and theories about their mysterious occurrence. Perhaps someday I will return to the Marfa Lights Viewing Center with my camera (and a better flashlight) for another attempt to view and photograph the mystery orbs in the West Texas night sky.

Posted by rachwells 20:54 Comments (0)

Did I See a Ghost...Town?


Is it still considered a ghost town if there are a few houses directly across a narrow dirt road from the broken brick ruins of the Silver Capital of Texas? Not many people still live in Shafter, Texas (only 11, as of the 2000 Census), but it is obvious that a few residents call this (ghost) town their home. Located 43 miles south of Marfa and only 20 miles away from the Texas-Mexico border, it would be easy to drive past the town unless you really look for it.


On Easter Sunday, my friend and I arrived at the town in the late morning. There were no other visitors in sight except for an occasional car or truck passing by on the dirt road or on the highway. While taking photos of the ruins, I could feel the uncomfortable silence around me. If I looked behind my shoulder, I could see residents' houses. Right there. Up close. Too close. I had a funny feeling about being there, but I tried to ignore it. In that moment, I had a flashback to when my sister and I visited the cemetery in the tiny town of Aurora where residents also lived surprisingly close (aka: across the narrow street).


As a ghost town, Shafter seemed very different from Calico, the abandoned town in the California desert that I visited last summer on the way to Los Angeles. Calico clearly had been turned into a cute, roadside tourist attraction - no residents at all, just old-timey themed gift shops, eateries, a school, etc. Shafter has a couple of signs to mark its history in the area, but there is nothing flashy about this place. Other than a few modest homes, a cemetery (which likely has more residents than the living ones), a pretty church (which is still in use), you just see the broken remnants of a once-thriving mining town.


I am glad that I got to see Shafter because I am fascinated by ghost towns. That said, I must admit, I also felt relieved when we left because of the weird feeling that I got while being at that eerily beautiful yet isolated site. On the way back to Marfa, we also stopped on the side of the road (still close to Shafter) to take photos of Elephant Rock. Does the rock formation really look like an elephant? That is up to interpretation. I saw a slight resemblance after really looking for it. If you already are in the area and feel like stopping to take a look - at the Elephant Rock and/or the Shafter ghost town - go for it, and decide for yourself what you see in the ruins!

Posted by rachwells 20:52 Comments (0)

Rain and Hail in Marfa, Texas


In a tiny, quirky town in the middle of the vast West Texas desert, we experienced something even more rare than the Marfa lights: rain and hail. On our way out of our hotel, my friend suddenly stopped when we reached the outside patio and said, "We are not going anywhere tonight." I looked up and saw torrential downpour of rain and hail. The pitter patter of hundreds of pea-sized ice pelts caused my mouth gasp wide open and my heart sank. No mystery lights for us tonight. (Thank goodness we booked a second night in Marfa so that we could try again the next evening.)


So what did we do with our rained-out evening? We went to the bar in the hotel to have a drink. The free entertainment of watching drunk guys singing along to 1970s and 1980s pop/soft rock classics like "Bennie and the Jets" and "Love Shack" made me very happy. Hey, when Plan A goes awry, there always is Plan B, which sometimes can make for an even more interesting adventure than what you originally anticipated.


Earlier in the evening - before the "concert" in the hotel bar - my friend and I saw the famous Prada Marfa art installation in between storms. It rained during our 30 minute drive to the site, but we got a few minutes of sunshine while we took photos of the roadside attraction. Yes, it is neat to see a "statement piece" in the unlikely setting of the open West Texas desert. That said, after taking a couple snapshots and looking up close for a few minutes, you have seen the Prada Marfa and are ready to move on.

Well, Day 1 in Marfa had its precipitation challenges, but my friend and I thought that surely this weather oddity would not last long. As I went to sleep that night - with the rain continuing to come down in spurts - I excitedly dreamed about the promise of tomorrow's predicted clear skies. And I had a certain Elton John song stuck in my head.


Posted by rachwells 19:59 Comments (0)

Photo Scavenger Hunt around Roswell, NM


A horse and buggy. A public payphone. A cat in a car. A multi-colored porta-potty. A local celebrity. These are a few of the things that we were challenged to find this past weekend.

My friend had the amazing idea to do a photo scavenger hunt for our road trip to Roswell, New Mexico and Marfa, Texas. She asked Facebook friends to suggest non-location specific items for us to find while on the road. Each time we spotted something on our list, we took a quick snapshot on the camera phone and marked it on our list, including the name of the town where we found the item.


Thus, in addition to visiting Roswell's famous UFO museum, we had a mission to find as many items as possible on the photo scavenger hunt list. Even better than a horse & buggy, we found an alien riding on a wagon outside of a hotel. We located art made out of unusual materials when we spotted the image of an alien on a wire fence. We saw an upside down sign in Bottomless Lakes State Park, and we took a photo of my friend giving a "thumbs up" after a delicious dinner at Peppers Bar & Grill, a local restaurant recommended to us by a resident.

We also drove around Roswell looking for other oddities, including a R2D2 Star Wars post office box, a mural of outer space, and quirky alien paintings on local establishments. In addition, we traveled 20 minutes north of town looking for the sign marking the path to an alleged UFO crash site, which it turns out, had been taken down. At least we tried.


The photo scavenger hunt served as a great conversation topic, and we got to see more of Roswell than we might have otherwise. Did we find every item on the two-and-a-half page list during this past weekend? No. However, the search for a truck stop slot machine - and further investigation into the 1947 alleged UFO crash near Roswell - can continue into the future!

Posted by rachwells 22:09 Comments (2)

Wander Sphere Celebrates 5 Years!

With overwhelming pride, I write these next words: My travel blog Wander Sphere is celebrating five years!

When I posted my first entry 61 months ago, I was an idealistic 23 year old trying to navigate post-college life during the Great Recession. I felt lost - caught between obligations and dreams. I recently had completed school with a degree in political science, but that is not the person who I became after graduation day. For four years, I thought I wanted to be a political reporter, but why did I feel so restless? It was an uncertain and confusing time in my life.

So, I did the most logical thing that a person named Rachel Wells would do: I took an impromptu trip, which turned out to be a life-changing experience full of important personal revelations: I was not lost after all - I was meant to wander, to explore. Funny how I found myself while getting turned around in West L.A. When I came home, I decided to follow my true passion - I started writing about my travels, beginning with my adventures in California; Washington, D.C.; Paris; London; Colorado and San Antonio.

I kept traveling, and I kept writing, while also balancing my day job. After a while, I found a rhythm with what I wanted to do. I saw and experienced many exciting new places, including New York City, Vancouver, San Francisco, Hawaii, Montreal, Seattle, Santa Fe and Las Vegas. Oh yes, and most recently: Philadelphia, from where I just returned a couple weeks ago. Some of my favorite memories over the past five years include ghost hunting on Oahu, celebrating New Years Eve in Montreal, spending three months traveling across the U.S. Southwest during last summer, and hiking from Los Feliz up to Griffith Observatory in L.A.

Has it always been an easy journey over the past few years? Of course not. It is never easy to deal with stress at the airport or to unpack after an amazing trip. There have been setbacks and disappointments. Also, some people do not understand what I do and why I love to do it. Does it bother me? Sometimes. Do I let it stop me? Absolutely not.

Through everything, travel has been my steadfast teacher and companion. I have been humbled when things did not go my way. I have learned to be resourceful when I miss the last train and need to figure out how to walk the long way home. I have tried speaking the native language in a foreign country, even when my pronounciation sucked. I have been self reliant while traveling by myself. I have learned customs of different cultures. I have marveled at gorgeous scenery. I have photographed unique sites. I have connected with people of all different backgrounds. I have had the most amazing adventures of my life. And with each new trip, I am reminded of what an incredible place our world is.

Five years later, with lots of cool experiences and more than 70,000 page views, this blog has exceeded my wildest dreams. I sincerely thank everyone who reads my blog, because it really does mean the world to me (no pun intended). My passion and my life is travel, and I know that I will continue to explore now and in the many years to come. So, where am I going next? In three weeks, my friend and I are taking a road trip Roswell, New Mexico and Marfa, Texas - I can't wait for an out of this world experience!

Posted by rachwells 19:53 Comments (1)

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