The famous Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park, covered in snow after a substantial storm in 2020.
Let me start by telling you that I am not the type of person that spends their free time hunting for cryptids in the dark. The search history on my computer does not include the phrase “lizard people.” The story I’m about to tell you is actually kind of hard for me to get out. Outside of my wife, I’ve told it to very few people. To this day, I have no idea what I saw, or know how to feel about what I saw.
I went out to Big Bend National Park in December of 2018 for a Pacific Crest Trail shakedown hike. On the itinerary … the famous Outer Mountain Loop. It’s a winding trail that takes you from the beautiful desert mountains of the Chisos Basin, to the rugged harsh floor of the Chihuahuan Desert, and back again.
I had a great time out there… for the most part. In my trip report, I left out a pretty crucial encounter.
The Night Came
As I rounded out the first day of my Big Bend trip, I raced the sunset through zigzagging rolling hard terrain along the Dodson Trail. I was slowly losing elevation, and after making my way around a bend, I saw the perfect campsite by Fresno Creek. I was lucky it was flowing so late into the year.
With 15 miles under my belt, after a late start involving park rangers and negotiations over a backcountry permit, I was exhausted to my very core. I looked around as I stuffed food down my gullet. The scene was serene.
I was essentially in a very wide valley at the Eastern edge of the Sierra Quemada mountain range. The sun was painting the sky rose shades that slowly turned to blue and violet. The temperature began to dip. I was out cold as soon as my head hit the pillow.
The desert floor of the Chihuahuan Desert is a rugged place. However, it can be just as beautiful as the Chisos Mountains. Just in a different way.
Around 2 AM, I fully woke up. Yes, I was fully awake. I peeked out from underneath my flat tarp, and looked straight up into the heart of the Milky Way. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, nothing to obscure the vastness of the galaxy.
Big Bend is an International Dark Sky Park, and has the darkest sky out of all the national parks in the United States.
I felt so humble and small, as I stared up at the 100 thousand million stars that make up our little neighborhood in the universe.
I sat for about three to five minutes, before I decided to pack up and start hiking out. I had already gotten a full night's sleep, about seven hours, and was stirring to get a good early breakfast at the Chisos Mountain Lodge (their breakfast buffet is to die for). I turned on the red light on my headlamp, and got to work on making a cup of coffee.
I sat back to enjoy my coffee, when I saw a small light dancing above the ridgeline of the Sierra Quemada to the southeast.
“Are those…hiker’s headlamps?” I asked myself. No... it's ABOVE the ridge and moving across a vast distance in a short amount of time.
Almost immediately I shut off my headlamp, and stared agape at this light, as it just whizzed up, down, and along the ridgeline, defying all logic and physics.
An orb, photographed at a different time, near a long ago abandoned mine in Idaho.
For lack of a better word, this…orb…was oscillating between red to green, then back to white at random iterations.
It suddenly shot straight into the sky, to the heart of the Milky Way above the valley. I don’t think I took a breath or moved an inch.
There was no uniformity or reason for this thing, it would just act and move randomly — changing color as it traveled. It made several circles in the air, and then whizzed back down the ridgeline. This time further along the ridgeline, and closer to my camp.
“Is this...is that what I think it is?”
“If it was, it completely changes the way I think about the world and my place in it. Sure, fine; I DO believe there's other life in the universe, but I don't necessarily think the planet gets visitors, or that abductions are a real thing.”
“What the actual hell am I looking at right now?”
In 2020, scientists from MIT and Cardiff University found signs of phosphine in the clouds of Venus, which could suggest small microbes of life exist within the planet's clouds. Yet, I wasn’t on Venus, nor was this a microbe I was witnessing with quiet horror.
A small panic took me, but I didn’t dare move, not even a shiver, alone — or maybe, not?!? — in this empty cold valley.
The temperatures that night barely stayed above 20 degrees. I hoped against hope that the light would disappear … or move in any other direction but the one I was located.
But that was not the case.
It came closer and closer, lazily dancing along the ridge, changing colors on a whim. I sat in silence, as fear began to overtake me. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
To this day, I can not believe what I saw. I was witnessing a paradigm shift within me. Within the WORLD, in real time.
It inched closer, and my fear left me dumbfounded. What could I do? I was frozen in place. Dozens of scenarios ran through my head, which frankly I’m too ashamed to share.
As it got closer, I laid down and just tried to be as small as I felt.
Slowly, the light whirled past me, high along the ridgeline, continuing north. I closed my eyes and just hoped for the best, wishing for the morning sun.
The morning sun!
I woke up with a small gasp. Morning had come. The sun turned from deep shades of amethyst to crimson red. I sat with my thoughts for a moment before I hastily packed my gear and left my campsite.
I climbed out of the valley and eventually stood on the ridgeline I had intently watched the night before. I looked around and was hit with one of the most beautiful landscapes I had ever seen. I was alone, with no one to share this view.
The view from the top of the ridgline I watched the night before. One of the best views that I have ever seen, to this day. I fell in love with the desert at that moment. This picture led to so many more desert adventures.
To this day, I have no idea what I saw, or know how to feel about what I saw. I’ve never felt such an eerie presence, nor felt more helpless than I did that night.
I’m just one small being in a large universe.
Rafael is a freelance writer and adventurer based in the Mountain West. You can find him trail running, backpacking, or sampling the best tacos during his free time. Follow all his adventures over on Instagram, or read more of his work over on his website.