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In San Antonio, a startlingly large city moated by malls and office plazas, I follow a sign for the Alamo, then splurge on a hotel room with an 11th-story view of the fortress cum tourist hive.That evening, I ramble along the River Walk, a strip of riverside restaurants and hotels in an arms race of lights, candy-colored umbrellas, and thumping pop music.

As our bodies marinate, the words wash lazily out of our minds, as if we are silently making a pact not to hold each other accountable.

On the way back, the wind dies and the moon shines a platinum floodlight over the landscape. “Listen.” Without our footfall, there is nothing but silence, deep and flawless.

I roll through an old ranching and railroad town, Marfa, now popular among artists, where galleries inhabit 1950s gas stations and turn-of-the-century storefronts. “I got in my car and just wound up here.” My explanation seems utterly inadequate, but they nod, satisfied.

“This is where the trouble happens,” says a man nursing a pint as I slide onto a barstool at Padre’s, a dark cavern of a bar with rows of tequila. He introduces himself as Carlos, and his friend as Rico. Stranger things must happen in Marfa, where the expanse of desert beyond the movie-set-like facades allows a freedom of mind untenable elsewhere.

When I reach a crossroads—a sign for El Paso—I turn left, toward Texas. I watch as the landscape—a thousand browns, yellows, and the unbroken blue of the sky—stages a procession of small dramas.

Perhaps some part of me knows that the sprawling skies and deserts of West Texas are uniquely suited to rebooting the brain. Over the dark winter months, a faceless depression had suffused my life, threatening to take up permanent residence. The grasses turn gold with sunset, and the Union Pacific clanks by with its big yellow cars.

Even the bar’s motley assortment of patrons—a leathery wire of a cowboy, skinny hipsters in ironic T-shirts, a handful of stone-faced farmhands—reflects the town’s live-and-let-live attitude. Now nearly 700 miles from home with no reservations or places to be, I decide to camp in a field for the night.

Alone in the darkness, under the ghostly light of an almond moon, I could easily spook myself.

But I’ve never been here before, I tell her, and with no expectations, I think it’s gorgeous.

South of a wide swath of bland desert, Big Bend is a prize of rivers, mountains, canyons, and big wildlife, including bears and mountain lions. I simply spot it on my map one day and point south.

She says it’s a shame I came this year; the dust and cold killed the spring flowers before they’d even bloomed.

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