YOU won’t find directions to the Field Lab, a homestead two and a half miles off Highway 118, deep in the West Texas desert and 30 miles or so from the Mexican border, on MapQuest. But John Wells, who built the place and lives there all by himself, will meet you under a highway billboard in his white Toyota pickup and lead you in, accompanied by a cloud of tenacious Fizzle Flat dust. (He might even offer you dinner: a plate of red beans, rice and broccoli, and a tangy slice of homemade cheese, olive and beer bread, cooked all afternoon in his solar oven.)
Known locally as the Moonscape, this raggedly lovely landscape of mesas and buttes, mesquite and desert juniper is rough and cheap, which makes it a tempting site for off-the-gridders like Mr. Wells. There are no paved roads, no electricity and no water, but you can see the Milky Way more easily here than you can at the Hayden Planetarium. (Last Thursday night, shooting stars fell with ho-hum regularity.) And your yearly property taxes might be less than a month’s worth of cable and Internet service. Last year, Mr. Wells’s were $86.
With his ZZ Top beard, battered cowboy hat and worn boots, Mr. Wells, 51, looks like a native. But like many of his neighbors, he’s a recent transplant, a former fashion and catalog photographer, late of Manhattan and Columbia County…..