Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Trans-Pecos legends Ira and Ann Yates, namesakes of that famous conjuncted Texas town, Iraan, bought rough country along the Pecos River in 1915 and barely survived with their nine children until 1926 when black crude bubbled out of their ground. Instantly endowed, they focused on their first love, ranching, and their favorite breed, the Texas Longhorn.

Shipped over the Atlantic in the belly of Spanish Galleons, the longhorn was introduced to the Americas at the port of Vera Cruz, Mexico in about 1541. Gnarly and un-keen to be domesticated, many feraled and worked the low shrub and cactus country with their long legs and nearly hairless bellies north and west up to Texas. Multiplying profusely in a fenceless land, they used their horns to fend off predators like the big cats and grey wolves of that time. They became part of the territory, and their hides originally black from Spain, mutated, turning out brindles, speckles, reds and whites, that blended with the earth and rock. They became regular denizens in northern Mexico and were known as “Corrientes,” a Spanish word meaning “common.”

At the age of twelve, in post-civil war Texas, Ira Yates ran longhorns up the Goodnight-Loving trail to Dodge City where buyers bid cattle, primarily for tallow and hides, because meat and refrigeration had not yet co-mingled. Up to 1890, it’s estimated that 10,000,000 of the feral beasts were rounded up by free-lancing cowboys and driven north to the slaughterhouses.
New breeds gened into existence with higher grease content and larger hides. These hybrids such as Charolais, and Hereford displaced the pure scrawny Texas Longhorn, quickening its route to oblivion.

But Ira’s son, Cap, born in 1886, and buried in the Glass Mountains, was a crucial link in the family effort to preserve the Texas Longhorn. Finding few pure strains in the southwest, Cap traveled to Mexico and rounded up descendants of those first four-legged Spaniards that crossed the pond with the Conquistadores. Cap’s eventual 1500 strong longhorn herd became the seed stock for most of the Texas Longhorn living today.

Cap’s son, Fayette Yates, continued the family tradition, and became the first charter member of the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association. His horn collection can be seen today at the Old Lajitas Trading Post.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Marfa Lights

When aliens first visited Earth four billion years ago, they left two things to confound us: language and the Marfa Lights.

Explanations for the lights abound, from vehicle headlights to the genie in the iron dark of the world. The first written report was filed in the 1880’s by railroad workers about the time Marfa was coming into its own. The luminous spherical objects bouncing oddly across the horizon were seen from parts of the Chihuahua-San Antonio Trail just before Paisano Pass.

Strangely no reports of sightings were filed during the operation of the Marfa Airfield during the 1940’s when tens of thousands of military personnel were stationed here.

Scientists from around the country, Japan, and Germany have studied the phenomena. Nucleated dust has been one theory, an event that occurs when water in the atmosphere condensates with dust creating prismatic orbs in the sky.

Another theory, first discovered by Marie Curie’s husband Pierre, called the Piezoelectric effect, suggests that quartz in the surrounding mountains (the Chinatis and Paisano Plateau) build up electricity during thermal expansion of the rock and discharges the voltage on contraction. This pressure induced charge is especially active when great swings in ambient temperature occur. The luminous release is known as ball lightening. Unlike lightening flashes, these discharges can last for many seconds.

Another theory centers on the mirage principle where inter-stellar light is refracted through layers of cold and warm air in the earth’s atmosphere, essentially bending light. The dense cold air has a greater refractive index than the warm air and as the light passes through, it bends away from the temperature gradient, producing the mirage.

A recent study by the University of Texas at Dallas concluded after four nights in the field at the Marfa Lights Viewing Center on Highway 90, that they were nothing more than headlights from vehicles on Highway 67.

But written, video and photographic evidence of the lights might suggest otherwise. The unpredictable nature of these rare colored orbs bouncing yellow, blue and green along the horizon, suggesting a Sing-a-Long-with-Mitch rhythm, are different from the commonly seen white headlight spheres of the vehicles, the distant ranch lights, the flashing red of the railroad switch station and the Border Patrol checkpoint.