SALINA, Sevier County — Consider today’s column a public service announcement: If you’re ever driving on I-70 between the towns of Salina and Green River, do yourself a favor and check your gas gauge. It could save you a lot of grief.
That’s because out of the thousands and thousands of miles that make up America’s vast interstate highway system — almost 50,000 at last count — there is no longer stretch of blacktop without services than the one between Green River on the east and Salina on the west right here in Utah.
One hundred and six consecutive miles of no towns. Or exits for that matter. Once you start there’s no legal way to turn around.
The scenery is varied and beautiful and at some points spectacular, but there’s plenty of it, sometimes too plenty, particularly if you glance at your dashboard and can’t see the “E” because the needle has it covered.
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Four or five times a week. That’s how often Cindy Barney and Andrea Orozco see someone walk into the Phillips 66 Scenic Quick Stop with that look in their eye.
The Scenic Quick Stop is a combination gas station/convenience store/Carl’s Jr. restaurant that sits just off the exit ramp at mile post 56 in Salina. Cindy and Andrea, mother and daughter, are friendly cashiers at the Quick Stop. “That look in their eye” is the combination of panic and relief worn by people who have run out of gas and have hoofed or hitchhiked to the station.
“They walk in and they’re like ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so glad you’re here!’” says Cindy. “They’re so happy to see us. They think we’re God.”
Then they buy a 2- or 5-gallon gas container — the station sells about 30 of them a week — and start worrying about how they’re going to get back.
Sometimes they walk, sometimes they ask someone heading east to drop them off on the shoulder opposite their car, and sometimes a friendly officer of the law runs them back.
That’s what happened the night a man walked in wearing two different shoes, and one of them was a woman’s.
A Salina police officer happened to be in the store and asked the man if he’d been drinking. “I wish,” he answered. He wasn’t drinking. He was freaking out. He’d run out of gas and had to leave his wife and baby back in the car on the freeway in the dark. He’d been driving barefoot and in his haste to get help he put on one of his shoes and one of his wife’s shoes. The cop drove him back to his car.
“We listen to all the stories and we help all we can,” says Andrea. “It does keep things interesting around here.”
According to the cashiers, two factors contribute to the preponderance of people traveling from the east who run out of gas before they run into Salina.
One is human nature to be overconfident in one’s gas supply, especially when driving a hilly stretch of interstate that, in Cindy’s words, “sucks gas like a vampire.”
The other is the signage near Green River.
There is one small sign that announces “Next Services 106 Miles” just before the last Green River exit. Then, if you miss that one, there’s another one at mile post 154 that announces “No Services on I-70 next 100 Miles.”
A lot of people, the women theorize, don’t notice anything until that second sign, and by then it’s too late because they’re past Green River and they can’t go back. They couldn’t pull off and get gas if they wanted to. It’s Salina or bust.
The majority of the people who come into their store after running out of gas, or who have spent the past 100 miles consumed with worry about running out of gas, complain about the placement of that sign.
So many that one morning on their day off, Andrea and Cindy got in their car and drove to Green River to see for themselves if the last sign was indeed AFTER the exit.
“We didn’t believe them, but it’s true,” they said. “We saw it ourselves.”
In contrast, cars approaching the longest-stretch-without-services from the west have ample warning in the form of a huge billboard a couple of miles from the Salina exit paid for by the city that announces “No Bull, No Service for 110 Miles.” A short way after that, still before the Salina exit, is the smaller official highway sign with the same warning.
People might be wary but those two signs get them into the Quick Stop. “They ask if it’s really no bull, no service for 110 miles? Or are you just trying to get more business?” says Andrea. “We tell them yes, it’s true, and not only that, that mountain sucks gas.”
“We do sell a lot of gas,” she says, “and also lots of bottles of water.”
And everybody’s happy to see them.
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org