ImageAs I write this, I’m in a car nearing the end of a 24-hour road trip. Though my one-car caravan stopped for a short (and, incidentally, sleepless) overnight in Mississippi, I’m drained. And and ready as I am to get on with this summer, I miss the mystery of West Texas already.

West of Santa Anna and south of Amarillo, the sandy desert hills near the New Mexico border morph into flat plains and plateaus. This land, mainly used for oil and natural gas wells now, was completely bare five years ago–occupied only by jackrabbits, roadrunners, and smaller lizard-y creatures.

Now those flatlands and plateaus are sprinkled with thousands of 100-foot-tall power-generating windmills. It wouldn’t be completely strange to see a Don Quijote wannabe, decked out in ostrich-skin boots and a misshapen felt Stetson, rappelling one of those statuesque white figures.

In a different place, the streamlined white windmills might look startlingly anachronistic, the kind of thing landowners fight tooth-and-nail to keep out of their backyards. In West Texas, folks aren’t deathly concerned about protecting their panoramic views, though. It’s just cactus and grit, after all.

But at night, it’s not just desert and windmills. When the sun finally sinks below the larger-than-life sky, darkness rolls over the oil wells and cactus like a silent, black fog. It’s dozens of miles to the nearest town, and the only lights come from oil derricks and radio towers.

But a few minutes after the darkness settles, those windmills–topped by thousands of blinking ruby lights–turn the West Texas plain into a galaxy of its own. Five years ago, the horizon would have blended right into the sky–but now sparkling red gems reach up and around to meet the Milky Way like an unreal galactic night show.

That trip is over, and soon I’ll have to wash the sand out of my pockets. But I’ve seen it–the intangible mystery of the place I used to live.

I wonder where else I can find it.

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