BEAVER DAM, Ariz. -- Dan Reber's family sank its roots here on the banks of the Virgin River 125 years ago, after his great-grandfather was sent south from Utah by Brigham Young himself.
But this lifelong resident of the Arizona Strip still doesn't feel much like an Arizonan.
It's a common sentiment in this isolated cluster of tiny towns along Interstate 15 between the Nevada town of Mesquite and St. George in Utah. A lot of people here feel like their piece of the Grand Canyon State has been largely overlooked.
"We don't have much tie at all with Arizona. We very seldom hear from even our politicians," said Reber, a tall, barrel-chested 64-year-old with smiling eyes shaded by a white cowboy hat.
Added Nikki Stoddard, payroll clerk for the local school district: "We're the stepchild they wish they didn't have."
On Tuesday, Arizona will mark its centennial -- 100 years since its admission as the 48th and final contiguous state on Valentine's Day 1912.
Around here, though, it's a little hard to feel the love.
CORNERED BY THE CANYON
The Virgin River and I-15 flow diagonally across the northwestern corner of Arizona, forming a triangle that takes in the communities of Beaver Dam, Littlefield, Scenic and two others too small and indistinct to land on most maps.
The county seat of Kingman is almost 200 miles away. Residents unlucky enough to get pulled for jury duty face a 3½-hour journey that requires them to leave Arizona and cross into another time zone.
Phoenix might as well be on the moon. The state capital is 390 miles from Beaver Dam, a full hour farther than the Utah capital in Salt Lake City.
Roughly 3,500 people call the area home, depending on the time of year. Snowbirds now make up a large share of the population, 50 percent or more by some estimates.
"This has really got to be a retirement community," Reber said. "This community more than doubles in the winter time."
It's hard for anyone else to stay because there just aren't any jobs, said Darrell Garlick, board president for the Littlefield Unified School District. "In this little community there's a golf course and a gas station with no gas."
Residents have to leave Arizona and drive to Mesquite or St. George to buy groceries, catch a movie, collect a paycheck or see a doctor besides the ones who rotate through the small local clinic.
And what happens to their neighbors in Nevada and Utah often happens to them as well.
When Mesquite and St. George rode the boom over the past decade as it reverberated up I-15 from Southern Nevada, Beaver Dam grew right along with them. When the crash came and Mesquite lost a hotel-casino and other businesses, the town began to shed families forced to go elsewhere in search of work.
Times are also tough for the school district. Thanks to state funding cuts, Littlefield Unified is staring at a $500,000 shortfall on a total budget of about $3.2 million.
Garlick said the School Board has two unpleasant choices: Start chopping or ask a community already dealing with widespread poverty to pony up more tax money.
REASON TO CELEBRATE
On Thursday night, Beaver Dam Elementary School opened its doors and decorated its lunchroom walls with butcher-paper scenes of farms and deserts.
Beneath a handmade sign that read "Chuck Wagon," volunteers in white frontier bonnets dished out plates of hot food as students performed songs on a small stage.
In classrooms down the hall, parents and others from the community browsed displays of quilts and old pictures and watched a short film on the history of the area.
More than 400 people turned out for the event, which was held not for the centennial but to celebrate 101 years of education in the area.
The Littlefield Unified School District was founded the year before statehood.
When asked about Arizona's milestone birthday, people at the event, some of them teachers, seemed confused at first then largely unimpressed. Oh, that , they said.
Many of them seemed to think their community might be better off if it were part of Nevada or Utah.
"There's always been talk about that. People say we ought to go one way or the other," Reber said.
Stoddard knows which way she thinks they should go.
"Mesquite is our town," she said. "We feel like we're part of Mesquite, and they treat us like we are."
A HEAVY TOLL
The feelings of alienation in Beaver Dam and Littlefield have been fueled recently by a state effort to put up toll booths along Arizona's 30-mile stretch of I-15.
In their application to the federal government, Arizona transportation officials argued that few Arizonans use that portion of the interstate, but the road is in dire need of bridge work and other repairs totaling $250 million.
Predictably, people in Beaver Dam and Littlefield aren't wild about the idea of paying a toll to Arizona so they can drive to another state to get food and gasoline.
Garlick is one of the few residents who thinks the toll road could actually benefit Beaver Dam by forcing traffic off the interstate and onto Highway 91, the old two-lane road that cuts right through town and winds up in St. George. More traffic could bring more businesses and more jobs to town, Garlick said.
That's actually why he doesn't like the toll road idea. He doesn't want to see Beaver Dam grow.
PEACE, QUIET, CINNAMON ROLLS
While some people complain about the lack of government on the Arizona Strip, Garlick considers it a selling point.
"I'd like for them to forget about us. I'm kind of a don't-tread-on-me kind of guy," he said.
Garlick fled Las Vegas with his family about seven years ago. He discovered the Arizona Strip by accident, when an Internet search for property near Palm Springs turned up listings in Desert Springs, just north of Beaver Dam on I-15.
Garlick can't imagine raising his six children anywhere else. They don't have to worry about gangs or any of the other big-city concerns they left behind in Las Vegas.
"It's like stepping back 20 years with the problems of the world," Garlick said.
Lana Hess couldn't agree more.
She spent 34 years with the Clark County School District, much of it in the Las Vegas Valley, before retiring and taking a job as a second-grade teacher at Beaver Dam Elementary.
Hess said she makes more from her pension than she does from her current job, but the perks are tough to beat. The kids are almost universally well behaved and interested in learning, and she is free to do things she could never get away with in Clark County, like adjust the thermostat in her own classroom or teach the kids about mammals by taking them horseback riding.
"And the food is incredible," Hess said. "Have you ever had a school lunch in Clark County? It's like a frozen TV dinner for dogs. Here you come to work and it smells like fresh-baked cinnamon rolls because it is fresh-baked cinnamon rolls."
She said the local population is probably 80 percent Mormon and about 70 percent Hispanic, a high percentage of whom speak Spanish as their primary language, but everyone is very accepting of each other.
"It just feels like a different world," she said. "I wish I had 34 years to give here."
A LONG WAY FROM ANYWHERE
John Reyes has lived in the area most of his life. The growth in recent years is hard for him to believe.
"When I was a kid, you could count all the families in Beaver Dam on one hand," said Reyes, now 35 and a teacher at Beaver Dam High School.
As a kindergartner in the early 1980s, he was one of about 15 students in the entire K-6 elementary, which still met back then in a three-room school house built in Littlefield before the Great Depression.
There was no school bus and the bathrooms were in a small building outside, Reyes said.
Today, the district is home to almost 500 students in three schools all built since 1999, all with indoor plumbing.
But isolation is a constant challenge.
When teams from the high school play on the road, they often take two bus drivers with them -- one for the drive there, the other for the drive back.
Their closest league opponent is in Fredonia, Ariz., two hours away. Most athletic trips take six hours each way.
Sonny Graham usually drives on those trips. He also helps out in the school office and does "whatever else they need me for," he said.
The 27-year-old grew up on the Arizona Strip and, like Reber, feels no great connection to his home state. Beaver Dam and Littlefield don't really seem like they're a part of Arizona -- or anywhere else for that matter.
"We're just kind of forgotten up here, so to speak," Graham said. "We just get by with help from each other. We just make it work."
Contact reporter Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350.