Lights In Darkness

Ruby Zitzer, photos by Joey Wishart

My dad is the type of guy you would go to for advice. He is always a man of reason. He doesn’t often get caught up in drama or conspiracies or paranormal situations. Members of his community, family, and friends call him up for help on decisions and advice. His words are often those of comfort, realism and good sense. So, when he says that an extraordinary, even marginally believable, event happened, it’s hard for me to disregard it.

As he tells the tale, it was 1978. My dad was 27 years old and working for an outfit called the Santé Fe Mountain Center, a wilderness experience program with a clientele of criminal offenders. Santa Fe Mountain Center has broadened its mission since my dad was there. Back then, they alternated courses between juvenile delinquents and adult criminal offenders. Now they offer a range of counseling and custom trips. Each program targets a different group in need of direction and guidance. During the time that my dad worked there, the main focus was going on trips with criminal offenders who were on their way out of jail. These trips offered the inmates an opportunity to reflect and adjust, and to prepare to face their new beginning back on the street.  

He and three other instructors were in Big Bend, Texas, doing a recon trip to find a good route for upcoming trips. They had been roaming around the Big Bend area for a week or two, floating the river, rappelling down canyons, scoping out trails. This particular night, they were camped at an area called Mule Ears Springs. The fresh water spring bubbles up from the volcanic bedrock and is surrounded by spectacular volcanic formations and features. The camp was an oasis in the midst of hot desert. Birds were busy hunting for bugs and enjoying the lush sanctuary that the spring provided them.

The four of them set up camp and settled into their surroundings. Twilight came on. They sat in camp enjoying one another’s company and passing around a bottle of Southern Comfort. The sun set and the evening began to dominate the sky. Big Bend is one of the darkest quadrants of night sky in North America. The nearest city of any size is hundreds of miles away and the stars are brilliant and dense. The night turned absolutely black.

Care free, relaxed and enjoying the smooth burn in their throats, the four comrades sat and watched the sky, enjoying the oceanic silence and sense of space. Suddenly Kris, one of the female instructors, saw it.

“What the hell is that?” she said, pointing to the south.

Strange bright lights appeared on the southern horizon. They all saw them. Definitely not stars or planets, not planes, not satellites or shooting stars. They all sat observing the lights as they flashed across the night sky.

“Maybe it’s some border patrol thing,” Kris guessed.

They tried to rationalize the strange moving lights, trying to attach them to known objects. But the movements of the lights were erratic and sudden, nothing like an airplane and unlike anything they had ever seen. The movement was foreign.

There was no steadiness, no consistency, nothing familiar. As time ticked by, their curiosity grew and the lights continued their erratic movements. To get a better look at the lights, they got the binoculars out.

When they held the lenses up to their eyes, they could see the shape of the lights. They were shiny, metallic orbs flashing different colors – red, green, pink, blue. They zoomed about flashing against the black backdrop. One minute the lights would be far away like a distant star, but then they’d zoom up close in a flash, or rise and fall suddenly. As they continued to observe it, they saw that it was pulsing, flashing colors, now close, now far away, but always in clear sight. Each shift in color and movement was abnormal in the night sky. Then the movements got even more erratic.

Everyone took turns with the binoculars trying to figure out what these objects could possibly be and exclaiming at the strangeness of it all. None of them were ever able to come up with a logical or obvious explanation for the phenomenon. And it went on for hours. If it had been a fleeting vision, a flash in the sky, they could have doubted it, but the lights kept entertaining and teasing.

I interviewed my dad, and he said, “so at this point, by definition, what we were seeing was an unidentified flying object; there was simply no explanation for it.”

Big Bend is a very dark part of the world, a borderland between countries, and the kind of desert that encourages flights of mysticism. The impenetrably black sky allowed for a crystal-clear view of the objects, especially when magnified by binoculars. There was no way that they could have fabricated the vision.. It stayed clear for hours, zooming across the horizon, flashing lights, coming close and then receding.

They sat watching as the lights persisted and it got cold.

“Maybe it’s some weird military experiment on the border,” one of them suggested.

“Who knows,” Kris said, “but it is a for sure UFO.”

Finally, they could no longer stay awake. Everyone took a final look with the binoculars, shrugged, and headed for the warmth of sleeping bags.

My dad admits that there could well be a reasonable explanation. It could have been some super-secret military craft or an atmospheric disturbance similar to northern lights.  In the following days, they asked park rangers if they knew anything about it, but no one offered a clue. People admitted that strange night phenomenon were sighted in that part of Texas, including the locally famous “lights of Marfa” on the outskirts of a nearby town, but no one could ever explain the bizarre UFO night at Mule Ears Springs.  

This was made by

Ruby Zitzer

Ruby Zitzer was born and raised in Bozeman Montana. She is currently a student at Montana State University studying writing and human development. You will most often find Ruby outside adventuring on the trails and rivers that surround the Bozeman area.

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