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Janna North had the wheel of her father's 1971 Chevrolet Nova, and Carol Abbott was in the passenger seat. Sitting in the back seat were Lisa Rochefort and Bethany Gordon. It was after 10 p.m. when the girls crossed the Utah-Nevada state line nine miles (14 kilometers) east of Modena. And they were anxious to get back to the campus before their housemother, Mrs. Mortensen, locked the dorm doors.
That stretch of Utah Highway 56 is pretty desolate, all sand and sagebrush and ocotillo and Spanish bayonet, with the red sandstone bluffs on the northern horizon. So the girls were pretty happy when they finally spotted the Union Pacific railroad crossing at Modena. But just past the rails, Janna noticed something strange. Two sets of blacktop highway headed off into the desert--one veered sharply to the southeast, the other shooting northeast toward the canyon country further north.
Five minutes later, the Chevy entered the red-rock canyon. Janna, who had been chatting with her friends, suddenly noticed that the car's headlights were shining more brightly on the pavement. Looking closer, she let out a gasp. The white centerline was gone. Instead of black asphalt, they were driving on white cement..
"Janna, up ahead!" Carol exclaimed.
Janna gasped. The highway ended abruptly at a rocky cliff face. Janna stepped down hard on the brake pedal. Fishtailing slightly, the Chevy screeched to a stop in front of the cliff.
Carol looked around in awe. "This sure ain't Modena!"
"We must've gotten turned around back there," Janna said, her gaze darting back and forth. "Where the hell are we?"
Up ahead Janna spied a roadhouse (tavern--J.T.) and an adjacent parking lot. It seemed to have a neon sign, but she couldn't red it. What should have been letters were brightly-lit squiggles and curlycues. Some men came out of the building.