Snapshots from a rest stop somewhere between Tucson and Santa Fe

Once, years ago, when traveling early one winter’s morning from Tucson to Santa Fe, we saw an odd mist ahead of us. As we drew closer we discovered that beneath the mist was frost, coating the desert flats and turning them strange, otherworldly.

Elfland, we thought, and imagined warning signs alongside the road cautioning us against the dangers–not of blowing dust or failing to turn on our headlights, but of forgetting to turn our clothes inside out and the like. The visitor’s center beyond the playa has been Elfhame Visitor’s Center to us ever since. You can just picture the bored teenager with slightly pointed ears who much work there, can’t you, the one chewing gum and waiting for her shift to be over?

Anyway, in the more than a decade since then that we’ve been making this trip, we’ve been on the lookout for more glimpses of Elfhame, but we’ve never seen them.

So this year, hundreds of miles beyond Elfhame Visitor’s Center, we’re at a different roadside pulloff, the last one before Santa Fe. There’s snow around us, real snow, and as we look down on the city, we see white mountains turned frosty pink by the sun, the buildings on the slopes glittering gold at us–an otherworldly combination.

By the time we finished using the rest rooms and stretching our legs, it was gone, color and brightness faded away.

Of course. Magic like this doesn’t stay fixed in one place. You can’t catch glimpses of Elfland by looking for them, and they never appear where or when you expect them to. We should have realized.

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