University City

Can you spot mystery glow?

Brown Mountain Lights

N.C. 181, 10 miles northwest of Morganton.

This drive guarantees pretty foothills scenery, and nothing more. But for centuries, people have reported seeing inexplicable circular, red-tinted lights after dark on Brown Mountain, the 1 1/2-mile ridge in Pisgah National Forest.

The illuminations have tended to be reported on dark, haze-free nights in cooler months - bright, bulb-like and unmoving. They disappear before anyone can hike to their location; there are no known photos of them.

But Cherokee reported seeing them before European settlers arrived; as early as 1771, explorers reported reports of these mysterious orbs.

Explanations for the glows have ranged from religious (departing spirits of dead warriors) to pseudoscientific (UFOs).

The phenomenon has inspired music ("Brown Mountain Lights" recorded by the Kingston Trio, Roy Orbison and others), a movie (Disney's "Escape to Witch Mountain" movie, from a novel), and an episode of "The X-Files."

Places mentioned as prime for "Lights" spotting include overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 310 (Lost Cove) and 301 (Green Mountain). Closer to Charlotte, there's the Brown Mountain Overlook on N.C. 181, about 10 miles northwest of Morganton.

Feb. 11, Asheville author and paranormal investigator Joshua Warren will lead a symposium on the Brown Mountain Lights with Daniel Caton, a professor of physics and astronomy at Appalachian State University. Caton has long studied - but has yet to see - the Brown Mountain Lights.

The 1-5 p.m. symposium at Morganton City Hall is followed by a catered meal. At 6:30 p.m., attendees will board shuttle buses headed to the overlook on N.C. 181 for two hours of viewing.

Cost: $20 per person. Details/reservations: 828-433-6793;

Travel time from Charlotte: Two hours.

Directions: Interstate 85 South to Gastonia; take U.S. 321 North to I-40 (at Hickory); take I-40 West to N.C. 18; follow N.C. 18 northwest into Morganton. Continue northwest on Green Street, which becomes N.C. 181. After passing the N.C. 90 intersection, Brown Mountain will be on your right. Look for the Brown Mountain Overlook.