Ghost Road Scenic Park in Hardin County is home to the Saratoga Lights, one of a dozen "ghost lights" locations in Texas. Photo by Ben Griggs.
Don’t waste time and money on overcrowded beaches or expensive amusement parks this spring break. With a dozen “ghost lights” locations in Texas, this eerie phenomenon promises vacationers cheap thrills, exhilarating chills and a truly unforgettable experience. But beware: These destinations are not for the faint of heart.
“Ghost lights” traditions exist in nearly all cultures, often referred to as “will-o’-the-wisps” or “jack-o’-lanterns” and Texas folklore is no exception. The Lone Star State’s sites are as unique as the legends attached to them, offering visitors colorful stories and enthralling nighttime adventures.
Perhaps the most popular “ghost lights” location is in Marfa. For more than a century, witnesses have claimed to see balls of light appear against the pitch-black backdrop of the Chinati Mountains. Apache legend attributes the orbs to the spirit of Chief Alsate while skeptics credit the headlights of passing cars traveling along Highway 67. Marfa is also home to Texas wineries, a hip music scene and the Cowboy Hall of Fame, making the West Texas town a perfect spring break option.
Back east, the “ghost lights” of Bailey’s Prairie, just south of Houston, is woven—or perhaps soaked—into the very fabric of the town’s history. Legend has it that the ghost of James Briton Bailey, the city’s namesake, carries a lantern across the plains in search of his whiskey jug. Just an hour’s drive from Galveston, Bailey’s Prairie offers beachgoers a different way to stay cool this holiday.
Then there’s Ghost Road Scenic Park. Located 90 miles east of Houston in Kountze, the park cuts through the scenic landscape of the Big Thicket National Preserve and is home to the Saratoga Lights. Since the early 1900s, residents have described seeing disembodied orbs of lights along the deserted eight-mile stretch of road. The park is free, open to the public and according to witnesses of the lights, is the perfect spot to view the spooky light show.
Nearly all instances of “ghost lights” sightings include common behavior, such as lights bobbing and swaying up to 10 feet in the air that change color from white and yellow to red and blue and chase or flee from curious onlookers. Visitors to some locations claim that a deathly silence falls when the lights appear, with a sudden absence of the usual cricket chirps and frog songs. But most disconcerting is the lights’ seemingly human-like behavior.
Andrew Strange of Beaumont, a regular visitor to the Saratoga Lights site, said he compares the lights’ movements to those of a stray kitten.
“The light will come up to your car if you’re parked on the road, but it seems like it’s hesitant in approaching you because you’re sitting there watching it. If you move or start to make noise, it will slowly back away then flicker out. Now that’s creepy,” he said.
Scientists have weighed in on the phenomena with various explanations: static electricity, swamp gas, electromagnetism, tectonic strain and even bioluminescent barn owls. In recent years, studies have attempted to link the lights to wormholes—cone-shaped openings that lead to multi-dimensions in space-time, a mathematical model described in general relativity.
Ghost hunters like Martha Hazzard Decker, founder of East Texas Paranormal, attributes the lights to paranormal activity. “Most people think ‘paranormal’ means ghosts—people who have lived and died—but the term refers to anything abnormal and unexplainable,” Decker said.
So whether vacationers are looking for a unique tourist experience, some nighttime fun or just a cheap thrill, Texas “ghost lights” offer all three—for a fraction of the cost. And with a number of convenient locations that can be easily added to an existing holiday itinerary, the “ghost lights” can supplement any spring break getaway or become a multiple-stop road trip all its own.