"Seeing death as the end of life is like seeing the horizon as the end of the ocean." - David Searls
Hello, and welcome to the GroveZine! This is kind of a special GroveZine, and as I said in closing last month, we recently went on a paranormal adventure that I really want to share with you - we went searching for the Gurdon Light in Gurdon, Arkansas. While I'm not sure how legal it was, or safe it was, it was certainly exhilarating. Let's get right to it, but first I really think that I should include a huge disclaimer and warning...
First, to try to find the Gurdon Light, you have to trek out through several miles of what was once a railroad track. I assume that a railroad once owned the right-of-way there, and may still. Apparently a good number of people go out looking for it, and we didn't see any "Posted" or "No Tresspassing" signs, and we figured that getting arrested would be the least bad thing that could happen to us. Second, there are five trestles that we crossed that were in varying degrees of disrepair. From the photos below, you can see that they are very treacherous in the daylight, and an order of magnitude more so in the dark of night. It would be easy to twist an ankle, break a leg, or fall off and seriously hurt yourself. Third, I have no idea at all what kind of critters inhabit the woods there – Wildcats? Bears? Snakes? Bigfoot? All I know is that we heard some unsettling noises out in the darkness. We saw a fox trot across the path in front of us at one point. Anyway, getting eaten by something is not outside the realm of possibility. You'll hear our gator story later. And last, but certainly not least, the place is out in the middle of nowhere. It would be very easy for bad people to see a car parked, realize that someone is out looking for the light, and go in after them to commit a robbery or worse. I say all this to warn you that if you go out there, you do so at your own risk. There are probably a million ways that harm can come to you, and so I am not advising you to do this at all, in any way, shape, or form.
Okay, all the warnings given, I first heard of the Gurdon Light when I was a kid living about an hour away near Texarkana. It is a mysterious light that is seen hovering above railroad tracks outside of Gurdon, Arkansas. There have been a number of explanations for the light; some people believe that it is the reflection of headlights from nearby Interstate 30. The location is more than two miles from the Interstate, however, and the light started appearing decades before the highway was constructed in the 1960s. There are other natural explanations for the light such as swamp gas, which is a combination of the gases methane and phosphine. These are both created naturally by the anaerobic bacterial decomposition of organic material. In a laboratory, these gases produce a flame with an eerie green glow when ignited; the problem is proving that such gases spontaneously combust in nature. Another theory is that underground quartz crystal in the area experiences natural pressure, causing it to expel electricity which produces the light... although this has yet to be proven.
A supernatural explanation comes from a murder that took place near the railroad tracks in December 1931. William McClain, a foreman with the Missouri-Pacific railroad, was involved in an argument with one of his employees, Louis McBride. There was speculation that McBride had been connected to a train derailment that had taken a number of lives, and that he believed his boss McClain knew about his involvement. Because of that, McBride brutally beat his boss to death with a spike hammer. The assailant confessed to the murder and led police to the body. He was sentenced to death, and after an appeal, was executed. The first time that the Gurdon Light was sighted was shortly after this murder, so many people believe that the light is actually McClain’s ghostly lantern glowing as he walks the site of the old tracks. The story of the murder is true, as documented in a newspaper article from the Hope Star (Hope, Arkansas), Wed, Feb 3, 1932, Page 1.
In October 1994, NBC’s television show Unsolved Mysteries came to the Gurdon area to film a recreation of the 1931 murder. The program aired on December 16, 1994, documenting the phenomenon of the Gurdon Light and its legend. The Gurdon Light has also been investigated by academics, including those from Henderson State University, and while no explanation was found, the existence of the light was found to be unquestionable. People still visit the area to witness the unexplained phenomena today.
Gurdon is a small town just a few miles south of Interstate 30 in Arkansas, and is about two hours from where we live in East Texas. We booked a room on a Saturday night at the Southfork Inn on the north side of I-30 at Gurdon, exit 63. It's on Hwy 53, as is the entrance to where the railroad tracks used to be. Since we were going to be out at night looking for the Gurdon Light, all we really needed was a place to crash for the evening. It had a couple of good reviews on TripAdvisor, and a couple of not-so-good reviews, but at $65 for the night, we thought that we'd risk any problems to trade out for its close proximity (only 3 miles) from the entry point to the tracks. As it turns out, it was a very simple, but very clean, motel. The staff was nice, we had a TV, microwave, and refrigerator, so even if it wasn't the Ritz-Carlton, it had comfortable amenities. We'd definitely stay there again - they should really be advertising themselves as the "Official Motel of the Gurdon Light."
Here is a map of the Gurdon Light site, which I'll be referring back to in my account of the evening. The light appears in the area that was once a railroad track between Hwy 182 and Hwy 53. The map isn't exactly to scale, but is hopefully close; at least so that you can get an idea of the area.
We checked in to the Southfork Inn about 6pm when we got to town, and then set out to scope out the Gurdon Light location in the daylight. From I-30, just head south on Hwy 53 for a little over three miles. The railroad crossing has been removed but if you look carefully you can see where the tracks once were on either side of the road. Just before it on the right is a dirt road that leads to a cemetery. Just as you get to the cemetery you cross over where the tracks once were, and at that point you've already driven past the first railroad trestle. Here's the way that it used to look on Hwy 53...
The dirt road turn-off on the right
The railroad crossing on Hwy 53
It's a lot easier to miss now, so start looking at your odometer's 3 mile mark. The railroad crossing and signals have now been taken out, but if you look to the right where it used to be, you'll see where the tracks have been removed going off to the right. And just before it, you'll see the dirt road turn-off that is important because it will take you to a cemetery which is a great parking place when you go looking for the light. A couple of current photos are below:
The site of the RR tracks to the west
The dirt road leading to the cemetery
Notice that in both of the present-day photos above, there is a curve to both the track area and the dirt road, so the trees and foliage would block any lights from the highway when you're on the tracks (or at least, where the tracks used to be). When you're looking for the Gurdon Light, you're going into an extremely secluded area.
We parked in the cemetery, and started out along where the tracks used to be. By the way, some parts of the cemetery were wet, and so I avoided those areas to keep from getting stuck. Also, you don't have to park out in the area where the graves are - you can easily park in the entry point, which is closer to the old railroad line. I am very, very respectful of cemeteries, so while we were there we walked among the old tombstones and read the names and dates, and even picked up a few pieces of trash that people had left there. I would encourage you to honor not only this cemetery, but any that you visit. Show respect, and try to leave it better than you found it.
From the cemetery, we entered the path that was once the railroad tracks, even though the rails and ties had long been removed. The two trestles that we encountered (trestle 2 and 3 on the map) were a little troubling – it didn't look safe to walk across them. There were slightly newer planks of wood on either side, though, which made it kind of like walking a tightwire, albeit one that was about a foot wide. I kept concentrating on the fact that if I lost my balance, I was going to make myself fall over onto the trestle, and not into the water.
The decaying ties on trestle 2
Me on trestle 3!
We weren't sure what to expect for our fact-finding mission in the light, so my wife wore flip-flops... definitely NOT APPROPRIATE for the places we were walking. She was also wearing capris, which exposed her ankles to the bazillion mosquitoes that were looking for someone to feed on. She toughed it out, though, knowing that we'd be gearing up much differently for our nighttime hike.
We made it past trestles 2 and 3 on our daylight excursion, walked a little further, and decided that we were comfortable enough with it to come back when it got dark. We went back to the cemetery and got the car.
There was one more thing that I wanted to check out; there is a western entrance to the section of what used to be railroad tracks where the Gurdon Lights are seen, so we wanted to check if that might be a better way to enter the area. It is where Sticky Road crosses under an I-30 bridge (see the map above). The problem was that we couldn't find Sticky Road! While driving around looking for it, we saw a place called Pizza Barn (302 N. Elm St.)and stopped in to see what they had to eat for dinner (that's it in the photo). We ended up getting toasted subs to go; I had their Chicken/Bacon/Ranch Sub, and my wife had the Turkey/Bacon/Ranch. While we were waiting, we struck up a conversation with the nice young lady behind the register, and asked her about the location of Sticky Road. As it turns out, it was just a block or so away. It doesn't have a sign for "Sticky Road," but instead is labeled as highway 183. I told her about our plans to look for the Gurdon Light, and I added, "My biggest fear is being arrested, or getting knocked in the head out there." She laughed and said, "Neither will happen, although at Halloween it gets a little wilder with all the people out there." Keep in mind that the lady behind the counter provided the sum total of legal and safety advice I got for our outing.
We headed north on Hwy 183, "Sticky Road," and went 5 or 6 miles until it passed under I-30. At that point we could see where the railroad tracks had been removed, and to be honest, it looked like people had been driving onto the old track area. We stopped under the I-30 overpass, and I walked up to have a look at the old track site while my wife stayed in the car. The photo here is looking onto the old track path from the west. It didn't feel safe (from other people) being so out in the open, so we decided that when it got dark, we'd park in the graveyard and enter the old tracks from the east, like most of the people do that you read about online.
From there we went back to the Southfork Inn, studied the maps of the track, and ate our sandwiches. To get ready, we took out a can of Deep Woods Off bug spray, and doused ourselves in it. The way to do that is to strip down to your undies and spray all over, especially your legs. Then get dressed and spray your clothes. That gives you a double layer of protection against mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, and other nasty little varmints. When it started getting dark, a little before 8 pm, we headed out. We drove the three miles from the motel to the dirt road, followed it to the cemetery, parked our car in an out-of-the-way place, and walked over to the railroad path, where we were facing the first trestle (which on the map, was actually trestle #2). It was dusk and the sun was going down, so we hoped to clear a couple of trestles before darkness fell.
We cleared our first two trestles (#2 and #3 on the map) using our flashlights, since the sun was going down more and more by the minute. There was a long walk between trestle #3 and #4, and by that time it was getting pitch black.
We kept going, and because of all the rain over the last month or so, we could see that there was water on both sides of the "track" area. We heard a lot of strange noises, including a loud crash followed by a splash, which made us think that something large had jumped into the water beside the trail. My wife asked me, "Are there alligators out here?" All that I could do was shake my head in the darkness and say, "I have no idea." For the next few minutes all that I could think of was whether or not we could outrun a gator if we had to, and whether or not they could navigate the trestles like we could.
Our camera was picking up a lot of light from the sky, so while it was so dark that we could hardly see out there, the photos allowed us to look back and see how everything actually looked!
We did have flashlights, of course; we used them when we walked, and turned them off when we stopped to wait for the Gurdon Light to make an appearance. I'm glad that we brought them along - I'd have hated to brave the trestles without them.
Time was passing passing quickly, so although we had walked a few miles and been out there for quite some time, it only seemed like a few minutes. I was the first one to see the Gurdon light; it moved in an arc, and then disappeared. It wasn't long until I saw it behind us. My wife saw it twice in the next little while - I didn't see it when she did, because we were both looking around back and forth, and not necessarily in the same direction. Thrilled that we'd been fortunate enough to catch the light, we started the long hike back to the car at the graveyard. It wasn't a moment until we saw it again, this time together. It was in the distance in front of us, a sphere of light moving back and forth, and then zooming away. It was back again in a moment, going from left to right and back, and then it stopped and came toward us, before zipping away again. I was snapping photos, but only caught the light in one - you can see it in the distance.
By the way, that's the 5th trestle in the photo above, which was the only one that looked safe enough to walk right across. After an evening in the darkness and an encounter or two with the Gurdon Light, we finally reached our car and headed back to the motel. Since we were covered in sweat and bug spray, we showered before settling in for a great night's sleep.
We woke up the next morning, still excited after the last evening, and checked out of the motel. There was a truck stop across the street, so we decided to have breakfast there.
I can't begin to describe how delicious it was - just look at the photo! The biscuits were as big as your fist, and the gravy... well, the gravy was amazing. And that's not even mentioning the omelet and the hash browns!
When we got back home, I was relating our story to a friend of mine who runs the river tour in Jefferson. He's been on lakes and rivers forever, so I asked him, "Are there alligators in south Arkansas?" I was curious, because that huge splash that we heard in the darkness sounded like a very big creature. When he told me not only that there definitely were, but that they were nocturnal as well, I then asked (with a little hesitation), "Can a man outrun an alligator?" He laughed and said, "Probably. Your real issue, though, is that they are ambush preditators. They lurk in the water where you can't even see them, then lunge out and grab you before you know what's happening." That was more than a little unsettling.
I couldn't get the loud splash out of my mind, so a little later I decided to go online to see just how prolific alligators are in the area. It didn't take long to find the photo and news story that you see here. When I looked at it, a shiver ran down my spine! I think that if we ever go back to check out the Gurdon Light, it'll be when the weather gets cold and alligators are a little less active. Of course, I'll still be watching for bears, coyotes, wolves, snakes... and of course... bigfoot.
Here are a few videos from other folks about the Gurdon Light:
Well, that's the special "Gurdon Light" edition of the GroveZine - I hope that you enjoyed coming along with us on the adventure. Next month we're getting back to our standard-type 'zine, with ghost stories from The Grove and some other fun things, but I couldn't resist telling this story. Talk to you next month!
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Here's what's coming up around Jefferson...
8/13/2016 - Jefferson Historical Museum Civil War Symposium
8/27/2016 - Jefferson Gun & Knife Show
9/30-10/2/2016 - 32nd Annual N.Tx. Norton Owners Rally
9/30-10/2/2016 - Jefferson City-Wide Rummage Sale
10/7-9/2016 - Burn Benefit Bike Rally
10/8/2016 - Carnegie Library Big Green Eggfest
10/16/2016 - Annual Taste of Jefferson
11/4-11/5/2016 - 5th Annual Medievel Wine Faire
11/5/2016 - History, Haunts and Legends Paranormal Conf.
11/26/2016 - Jefferson Christmas Parade
12/8-12/10/2016 - Candlelight Tour of Homes
1/27-1/29/2017 - Jefferson Quilts on the Bayou
2/24-2/26/2017 - Mardi Gras Upriver
...and much more throughout the coming year!
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