“THE MYSTERY OF LIFE ISN’T A PROBLEM TO SOLVE, BUT A REALITY TO EXPERIENCE.”
~ Frank Herbert ~
Reflecting On My Best Birthday Ever:
Could the Devil’s Triangle exist in a section of Texas’ Big Bend Country? Anchored on each corner are Alpine, Marfa, and Terlingua, and at some point in-between them you get lost.
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Each August, as my birthday rolls around, Mr. Padilly has to listen to the story of how my 16th birthday was my favorite – EVER! It was the year my friends threw me a surprise party, and afterwards we laid down in a field to talk about our looming adulthood while watching over 100 shooting stars!
Possibly tired of hearing my (best) birthday story, Mr. Padilly made a plan to recreate (outdo) that day by having us view the 2018 Perseids Meteor Shower in Big Bend Country, where the skies are so dark it’s no wonder it is home to the giant of star watchers, the McDonald Observatory.
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August 11, 2018
10:00 am – “Actual Contact”
The day started with a visit to “Actual Contact” and the Marfa Lights Viewing Center. I wanted to check both out during the day so we could get a lay of the land, and experience everything we might miss at night.
The first stop was “Actual Contact,” a new art installation by Jason W. A. Tucker, located just outside Marfa. This sculpture consists of 12 large steel pillars, with hieroglyphic forms cut into the steel that seem to hover on the horizon when their lights glow at night.
During our day visit, we were able to easily walk around the pillars and get pictures. Our plan is to return in the evening to see the columns lit, before heading over to see the Marfa Lights. To read more about our visit to “Actual Contact” back in 2018, including travel tips, click here.
12:30 pm – Alpine, TX
After checking out “Actual Contact” and the Marfa Viewing Center, we headed back to Alpine and had lunch at the Thai-way restaurant.
The restaurant is actually a food truck, and the open air dining is on one of the best corner lots in downtown Alpine. The food was great (Mr. Padilly knows his Thai food), the outdoor dining was fun and colorful, and I am still craving their Thai Tea!
With full bellies, we headed to our RV to take a nap before our long evening ahead.
6:00 pm – Birthday Dinner
With a long nap behind us, we got ready for my birthday dinner at Reata Alpine. The Reata Alpine has served their “legendary cuisine” in the region for over two decades. Our meals and the atmosphere were wonderful, but the icing on the cake was my surprise birthday dessert and card from the staff.
Can this birthday get any better than this?
9:00 pm – Marfa Lights
With nightfall finally arriving, we headed back towards Marfa to experience “Actual Contact” lit up at night, then headed to the Marfa Lights Viewing Area to watch the Perseids Meteor Shower, and possibly have some luck at seeing the Marfa Lights.
You can’t miss the viewing area as it is located right along the eastbound lane of the Highway 90, east of Marfa.
In preparation for our trip, I read James Bunnell’s book, Strange Lights in West Texas.
In hindsight, however, I’m not sure this was such a good idea, as I think I would have seen more of those ghostly lights if I didn’t know what to look for! LOL, just kidding! It’s a great book full of facts, and you can leave confident you weren’t fooled by car lights…maybe. 😉
We finally arrived at the viewing area around 9:00 pm, and a good size crowd had already gathered. In fact, the parking lot was almost full.
Most of the visitors where on the west side of the viewing area, nearest to Highway 67. According to Mr. Bunnell, this is the direction of the steady parade of car lights.
I also watched a few car lights move on the Nopal ranch road from the west side of the viewing center towards the southeast, just as Mr. Bunnell wrote in his book. In fact, as we were approaching the viewing center along Highway 90, I actually saw two vehicles enter that road. Without that knowledge, I could have easily mistaken these for “unusual” lights, as they moved in a very different pattern than the cars on Highway 67.
11:00 pm – Still no lights…
As the evening moved on, and more and more visitors left, about a dozen hardy souls where left.
Finally, around 11:00 pm, I notice a couple of lights through my binoculars; towards the southeast. They were a series of two lights, changing from red to white, to gone. They would then reappear, sometimes just one, sometimes both, and seemed to hover and move slightly along the horizon.
This pattern continued for a good five to ten minutes, and then they were gone for good. Because of the direction I was looking and their movement, I’m certain they were not car tail lights. And while I could see them with the naked eye (barely), it was only with my binoculars that I could see their colors and movements clearly.
Did I see the Marfa Lights? I’ll never really know.
Midnight – An Accident
As the hour approached midnight, and the cloud cover overhead only afforded us a couple of sightings of the Perseids meteor shower, we were preparing to leave when we began to see a series of flashing red lights in the desert, towards Highway 67.
The flashing clearly looked like police lights that had stopped for an accident, which were confirmed by the trail of white [head] lights stopped along the way.
Since I could see this activity with the naked eye, I gave my eyes a rest from the binoculars. Eventually the flashing lights went away, and the trail of white headlights slowly began to move and disappear into darkness.
Then, just as we were certain all the lights from the accident were gone, a few more “headlights” appeared in the same area, but unlike all the white lights before them, these did not seem to be moving down the highway. Instead they appeared to hover in place, blink on and off, and/or move horizontally, left and right, and giving the illusion of little white tails…
But alas, since it was past midnight, and these lights were in the direction of Highway 67, I chalked it off to having tired eyes.
1:00 am – The Lost Alaskan
It was well past midnight when we arrived back to our RV at the Lost Alaskan in Alpine. Mr. Padilly was setting up the outdoor chairs in an attempt to give it one more try to see the meteor shower since the persistent cloud cover over the Marfa Viewing Area only allowed us to see two unimpressive shooting stars.
I, however, had called it a day and was getting ready for bed when Mr. Padilly shouted into the RV to come outside quickly as the clouds had parted and he had already seen well over a dozen meteors!
Although very tired, I hopefully joined him, and we watched a few more meteors cross overhead and along the horizon; impressive, but still nothing as grand as those I saw on my 16th birthday.
Then it happened! The brightest shooting star I had ever seen appeared along the horizon! It was so bright that, as it moved right to left along the horizon, it left a large tail of bright white light in its wake! The tail was so bright, it lasted several seconds as the meteor crossed out of view in the horizon. It was simply magnificent!
This birthday was truly one for the record books. Thank you, Mr. Padilly.
For more articles on our trip to Texas’ Big Bend Country, check out the links below:
Alpine Texas – Pop. 5988* – Home to a university, great restaurants, accommodations, shops, an Amtrak stop, and Historic downtown.
Marfa, Texas – Pop. 1747* – Home to Marfa Lights, Actual Contact, Prada Marfa, minimalist/contemporary art, hipsters, old movie ghosts, and much more.
Terlingua, Texas – Pop 58** – An oasis in the desert. Last place I’d want to live, yet it keeps drawing me back.
Davis Mountains State Park – Home base during our first trip to Big Bend in 2017.
Mrs. Padilly Rocks! – Kindness Rocks Project.
*as of 2016
**as of 2010