Big Bend Ranch State Park, 60 miles south of Marfa (tel. 432/358-4444; www.tpwd.state.tx.us), is Texas's largest state park at over 300,000 acres and rivals Big Bend for a scenic desert wonderland featuring both the river and mountains. There are primitive sites in the remote interior and great hiking opportunities in and around the Solitario, a huge volcanic swelling in the eastern end of the park. Entrance fees are $3 for adults and free for kids 12 and under. Campsites are $8. Mountain bike rentals, tours, and horseback rides are available at the Sauceda visitor center in the park's interior. There is also lodging available at Sauceda for $25 to $100 per night.
Marfa's Mystery Lights
In 1883, an illumination flickered on the horizon east of Marfa, spooking a young cowhand by the name of Robert Ellison. Fearing the lights were Apache campfires, Ellison left behind the cattle he was herding and searched the terrain on horseback. He found nothing. Ever since, the "Marfa Ghost Lights" have puzzled thousands of eyewitnesses, as they appear, disappear, and reappear in an area where there are no roads, no houses, and no human inhabitants. Some observers insist the lights are the work of supernatural beings or visiting aliens, while others point to electrostatic discharge, car headlights, campfires, or swamp gas as the real cause, but no one has definitively solved the mystery.
There is a nifty viewing area 9 miles east of Marfa on U.S. 90. The lights are best viewed between 2 and 4 hours after sundown: Look to the northeast, just to the right of the mountains, along the horizon for the sporadic flickers of light. If there's a crowd, it's a scene straight out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. If the lights really pique your interest, don't miss the annual Marfa Lights Festival, a Labor Day weekend celebration with a parade, street dances, concerts, and arts-and-crafts sales.
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