My car holds just enough gasoline to get me from Las Vegas, Nevada to Beaver, Utah.
I first learned this when driving from my sister’s place in Vegas to Madison, Wisconsin in 2015. I was almost done with the journey’s I-15 leg, and, as one does, I pulled into the gas station that presented itself at the moment when my gas tank was empty and my bladder full.
And came face-to-face with this:
Gas stations are mystical that way: little pockets of opportunity dotted at intervals across the country. There’s an element of sameness to them—gasoline, of course, and restrooms of some kind. A similar array of snacking meats, beverages, candy bars, chips, and travel-sized over-the-counter medicines.
They don’t need to be any more than that. Gas stations are necessary along highways, and they’re not meant to keep people long. Even if a gas station’s bathroom is a certifiable horror show, if you gotta go, you gotta go. Even if half the pumps have “out-of-service” signs and the other half look like they’ll fall apart in the next wind storm, if your gas tank’s empty, you take what you can get.
And if you’re hungry enough and wanting to make decent enough time, you’ll probably go ahead and buy some jerky while you’re at it.
I once pulled into a tiny station in aptly-named Hope, Minnesota, with my then-vehicle spluttering along on fumes. It was well past sundown and the place looked completely abandoned, with tall weeds sprouting through the spider-webbed pavement beside the pumps. But the rickety machine took my money and the pump filled my tank with real gas, so all I could feel was relief and gratitude for a disaster averted.
But necessary or not, some gas stations decide to distinguish themselves.
Once I discovered a gas station that looked, from the outside, like a crime-scene procedural set—peeling paint, chipped siding, sunbleached signage. Only desperation propelled me inside. But the doors swung open into a boutique oasis. The bathroom was lovingly tiled in stone, impeccably clean, glamorously lit, and decorated with elaborate flower arrangements. The convenience store was stocked with the regular items, but also full of handmade local artisanal soaps, health-conscious snack options, specialized honey, and all the other quirky souvenirs you’d find at a crafts fair.
My failure to recall this station’s whereabouts has vexed me for years. It’s in the middle of the desert somewhere in the United States. That’s all the information I have.
So in 2015, face-to-face with the Beaver, Utah beaver statue, I began to laugh. And then quickly undid my seatbelt and scurried into the convenience store before my laughter could cause me worse problems.
I laughed all the way through the store. I’ll grant you, this discovery occurred at a low point in my life, and I’m especially prone to hilarity when I’m doing poorly. I’m told this is evidence of emotional resiliency. Perhaps it is.
Either way, I found the entire existence of this Beaver-themed gas station objectively hysterical.
But gas stations are way-points, not destinations. In fairy tales, characters find hidden springs or magical trees or houses made of candy deep in their woods, and the results vary. Frequently they’re never able to find the locations again (assuming they escaped in the first place). The springs and trees and houses inhabit a different, liminal world.
So do highway gas stations.
When I pulled out of Beaver, Utah in 2015, I never expected to see the beaver statue again. I hadn’t even bothered taking a photo. And, due to weather mishaps passing through Fishlake National Forest, I’d forgotten all about it by the end of the day.
I forgot about the beaver in Beaver, Utah until March of 2018, when I moved to Las Vegas from Wisconsin. By sheer chance, my gas tank and bladder aligned soon after I turned off the I-70 onto the I-15. I’d been on the road for two and a half days. My back ached. I was eager for journey’s end.
This looked familiar. And so did this:
I think the chair gets me the most. The beaver is designed for a photo op. The gas station yearns to be a tourist trap, longs to be a roadside attraction. I’m not sure it succeeds—but I’m also not sure it doesn’t.
It may be more than the chair, though. The beaver’s expression is ever-so-slightly unhinged. I’m reminded of animatronic creatures at Disneyland, or old statues of Ronald McDonald that used to be everywhere, and I half-expect the beaver to be rigged with hidden speakers, ready to startle me with a cartoonish voice when I sit down (it isn’t).
And then there’s the innocence of the whole thing. There’s a weird pure preposterousness to the entire installation. The beaver exists, and it defies objection. There’s no reason it shouldn’t exist.
Beaver, Utah is all right, as far as places go. It has a population of about 3,000 people and a few claims to fame. Beaver was the first town in Utah to be electrified, for example. It’s won awards for best-tasting rural water in the United States. And Beaver was outlaw Butch Cassidy’s birthplace.
All of which is to say there’s nothing wrong with Beaver—just that the gas station’s exuberant declarations of love come off eccentric in ways that stick, especially with repetition.
My initial feeling upon this second arrival was déjà vu. I didn’t realize I had actually been here before until I stepped inside and saw the merchandise. And again, I could do nothing but laugh and scurry faster towards the restrooms. What were the odds of stumbling upon such a quirky, delightful, outlandish gas station a second time?
I needed to save my phone’s battery for GPS, so again I took no pictures.
Only a month and a half later, in April 2018, did I realize how perfectly spaced Beaver was from Las Vegas. On my way to attend a graduation ceremony in northern Utah, I once again stopped for gas along the I-15 and came face-to-face with the “I Heart Beaver” beaver of Beaver, Utah.
This time I took a photo as evidence to send to my skeptical sister.
What horror movie photos are you sending my phone? she texted back.
Thus began my minor obsession. This bizarre, beaver-positive gas station had become my favorite gas station in Utah. Maybe the country. Maybe the world.
(It occurred to me at some point that the nicer or quirkier gas stations are likely noteworthy for the sake of gaining cult followings among truckers. It’s easy to develop favorites when you drive the same routes over and over again. Perhaps the more peculiar a gas station, the more likely it is to enjoy repeat business. Obviously that’s the case where I’m concerned.)
On my next trip to northern Utah, I was not alone. It was August 2018 and my sister and I were headed to a family reunion. I was determined to show her the Beaver, Utah gas station, and (I flatter myself) she was bemusedly interested in seeing it. But we’d planned to take long hiking detours both going and coming, and on both occasions, we circumnavigated Beaver. I was disappointed to a truly inappropriate degree.
Andrew and I travelled north several months later, for Thanksgiving. I wanted to show him the beaver gas station also. But Beaver has two exits—each with its own Chevron—and I guessed the wrong one when we stopped for gas (for anyone planning to look: the gas station you want is the Chevron off the northernmost Beaver exit). We stopped for dinner, and by the time we got started again, the sun had gone down and we were eager to press on.
The weather was nasty on the way home. My gas mileage was worse than usual, and we had to refuel before we reached Beaver. Stopping in Beaver afterwards made no logistical sense.
People were starting to believe I’d made this place up. And I’ll admit, I’d built it up extravagantly in my mind. Something about the convergence of idiosyncrasies had me thoroughly delighted. Obviously it’s not as amazing as my amusement makes it out to be. It’s a bizarre statue of a beaver and a gas station that’s leaned fully into the “I Heart Beaver” aesthetic.
But now the beaver had become elusive. When I travelled alone up the I-15, I couldn’t help but encounter the Beaver, Utah beaver. But trying to show it to other people—and failing—was becoming ridiculous. It had taken on a fairy-tale mystique.
The “I Heart Beaver” beaver was mocking me.
So when Andrew and I headed up the I-15 again this April, I was determined to stop at the correct gas station one way or another.
“It’s for my blog,” I told Andrew. “It’s important.”
But of course it was not as important as the funerary viewing we were heading for first. The morning of the trip, we got a later start than anticipated. We’d be cutting our timing very close.
“It’s a gas station, though,” I said. “We’ll need to get gas. I just need a few photos.”
But as we approached Beaver, I got confused again about which exit was the correct one when coming from the south. Internally, I’d labelled the exits “the first one” and “the second one” instead of “the north one” and “the south one.” I only realized on the approach that “the first one” could only be correct going one direction—and I couldn’t recall which direction it was.
I decided it was probably the south. “The first one, here!” I told Andrew.
I was wrong.
By the time we’d filled up and passed through the convenience store of the wrong Chevron, we needed to head out immediately. The moment had passed.
I was just about ready to give up trying to show the “I Heart Beaver” gas station to anybody. After all, it wasn’t that funny. It had become the physical version of that joke that keeps getting interrupted—at some point, you stop trying to tell it. The punchline’s good, but it’s been built up way too much. It’s no longer worth the effort.
Andrew wanted me to succeed, though. My “for my blog” argument resonated with him, and he became determined in his particularly Andrew-ish way to make the Beaver, Utah gas station stop happen.
So a week and a half later, on the way back to Las Vegas, we pulled off the I-15 at the northernmost Beaver exit and finally found the “I Heart Beaver” gas station.
“This is it! This is it!” I said as we parked. “See? There’s the beaver!”
“Oh—wow.” Andrew blinked at the statue’s toothy grin. “It’s outside. I thought it was gonna be inside.”
“Nope!” I said, and leapt out of the car. “Outside! In all its glory!”
I took a few photos, and then Andrew took some photos of me. He’s generally more amused by my amusement than he is by the objects of my amusement—and that works well. I perched carefully on the little red seat. After all this obsessing, the last thing I wanted was to break the “I Heart Beaver” beaver.
A cold front was blowing up from the south, complete with incoming rain, and I was shivering as we took the photos. But I finally had the photos. I could be thwarted no more! Finally I could truly immortalize this teensy little roadside oddity. Finally the world would know all about the “I Heart Beaver” beaver just off the I-15 in Beaver, Utah.
I hope all my readers are as happy about it as I am.
Have you ever found a unique gas station in your travels? What made it so memorable? Also—does anyone know the whereabouts of the amazing desert boutique oasis I described? Tell us about it in the comments!