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Destination-Seeing the light

By Bob Sims
Originally Published in the IAMC Newsletter, December 2012

I love the desert. Vast, quiet and sometimes mysterious. Along the Oregon-Nevada border near the microscopic town of McDermitt, Nevada, lies the Oregon Canyon Ranch. Many of us have probably ridden through this area but have never known of the “McDermitt Lights.” [1]

Oregon Canyon Ranch off Highway 95 (Garmin BaseCamp)
Satellite view of Oregon Canyon Ranch near McDermitt (Google Earth)

You may have heard of the “Spook Lights” (no, not the psychedelic indie band who take their name from the phenomenon) or “Ghost Lights,” and what’s going on near the ranch seems similar to what is seen in other states and around the world.

Spook lights have been recorded in various places throughout earth’s history. They have been the basis of folklore around the world, often associated with dragons, fairies, UFOs, gods and the paranormal. It wasn’t un9l the 1950s that the western cultures began calling them “ghost lights” or “spook lights”

Example of “spook lights” seen at night by several people and photographed near Marfa, TX on 9 November 2011. [2]

The Spook Lights typically appear at night and are usually described as orbs or discs varying from the size of a baseball to a basketball. They appear to hover or dance a few feet above the ground.

You can search the internet for photos and videos if you’re curious. A more famous occurrence happens in Marfa, Texas. I happened to speak with an individual who lives there and he was very aware of the “Marfa lights.” I asked him if he thought the lights were from car headlights and he said, “No. When you see them, you will know it; it will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.”

The following is an interesting account of the McDermitt Lights that I stumbled upon:

‘Phantom Lights in Nevada’

Fate Magazine, Vol. 1, page 98, Fall 1948. [3]
Written by Kenneth Arnold who was the pilot who first reported Flying Saucers, and touched off major ‘flaps’ of UFO sightings. Here is the article he wrote in the first issue of this magazine.

Note, the article clearly uses the spelling ‘McDermoitt’ but this could be a typo for McDermitt which is near Oregon Canyon on the Nevada-Oregon border. The article talks about a Ranch at Oregon Canyon. Note ‘at’.

“About every ten years, in the desert near Oregon Canyon Ranch, which is located near McDermott, Nevada, mysterious lights are seen at night by sheepherders and cowboys. Although rarely receiving publicity, these lights are a frequent subject of comment and conjecture on the part of the local ranchers.

The elevation is approximately 4,400 feet above sea level, and the area is extremely dry. There is no swampland, no damp area which might account for the lights as ‘swamp fire’. Sheepherders, most of them Basques (those strange people from the northeast provinces of Spain), have seen the lights most frequently, and describe them with complete and positive accord.

The lights, they say, appear somewhat like the lights of a car, but with either a pale red or a pale yellow glow, and hugging very close to the ground. The general appearance is as if someone was carrying a lantern, or a car was approaching. They are of a circular shape, glowing like a fluorescent light, and very often appear to be only twenty of thirty feet ahead of the observer. Yet, when approached, they seem just that much further away. The lights have been chased as much as two or three miles, but never could the pursuer get close enough to determine the exact nature of the light. A series was seen in 1922, again in 1927, and others in 1930.

In 1930, Joe Bankafier, a rancher, was riding back to his ranch at night when he noticed a large, pale reddish glow or light, circular in shape near the sheep corrals on his ranch at Oregon Canyon. His horse carried him to within fifty yards of the light, then became frightened. Bankafier was unable to control the horse, which turned in terror and ran with him for more than a mile. Finally exhausted, the horse pulled up, and Bankafier turned the animal around and tried to get it to return to the ranch. The horse went slowly, but remained nervous and jiVery. The light had disappeared, but when they reached the gate to the sheep corral, which was also the gate into the yard of the ranch, the horse refused to pass through the gate. Once more the horse bolted and ran with him a half- mile before he could bring it to a halt. On the next try, he got off the horse and aVempted to lead it through the gate. The horse refused to budge, became wild and panicky. Bankafier remounted the animal and once more tried to spur it through the gate. For the third time the horse bolted. This time, halting after a hundred yards, the horse turned, and proceeded to walk calmly through the gate, its terror completely vanished.

More than fifty of the sheepherders of the area have seen the mysterious lights, and it has been noted that dogs bark at them, proving that they are visible to animals as well as humans.3

A second type of mystery light seen in this area is best typified by the story of Tito Bengoa, one of three brothers who run the King’s River Ranch near King’s River, Nevada. Tito’s brothers are Frank and Chris Bengoa, and all are Basques. The ranch usually runs 2,500 head of cattle, and is reputed to be worth a million dollars.

It was in 1930 that Tito Bengoa and his wife and a number of other persons went out onto the desert and witnessed the phenomenon. They saw only one light, which seemed to travel along ahead of them, and at times circle them. They could not tell what it was. It was rather disk-like or moon-like. It looked exactly like a full moon, but it was not the moon, because of its travels around the party, and its passage between the party and the mountains in the distance.

The stories of Joe Bankafier and Tito are confirmed by hundreds of residents of the valley and surrounding territory, and the reputations of each is unimpeachable. What are the mystery lights of Nevada? To date, there has been no satisfactory explanation.” [4]

Oregan Canyon Mountains photographed by the author.

Along with the usual list of things to see in the desert— ghost towns, abandoned ranches and mines, plane crash sites, hot springs and the like—you can add the Phantom Lights of Nevada!

If you have a story or experience with regard to this phenomenon, please share. There are many theories on what causes the lights to occur which I won’t go into here. My purpose is merely to make you aware. If you ride to the area and find yourself camped out in the dark of a new moon, be on the lookout. You may just “see the light.”


1. The McDermitt Lights.

2. Spook Lights seen near Marfa, TX, 9 November 2011. alpinetx11092011.htm

3. Fate Magazine.

4. Phantom Lights in Nevada.

Editor’s Note: This is an unusual but interesting article–not the typical one that we publish. It should be noted that no additional sightings of “spook lights” near the Oregon Canyon Ranch a^er about 1930 (reported in Fate Magazine in Fall 1948) can be found. If you do go near the Oregon Canyon Ranch, be sure to ask some of the old timers about this phenomenon, and if you are camping, be sure to keep an eye out and a camera close by for them!

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