Sunday, November 7, 2004: Needles, CA: I was driving cross-country to California for the first time. It had been about 4 days since I left Memphis, TN. I had passed through Arkansas, Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle, New Mexico, and Arizona; so far, about 1500 miles. I spent last night in Kingman, AZ.
After breakfast in Kingman, I headed west on the I-40. Not knowing any better, I stopped in Needles, CA, that morning for the same reason most people stop there and have stopped there since the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s. Needles is the first major population center in California (current population 5600, 1930's population 3100) after the long, desolate, 60 mile drive west on I-40 from Kingman, AZ (and US66 prior to the construction of I-40) and the last reasonably populated place along I-40 before the scarey "No Services Next 35 Miles" sign.
I don't remember how much gas cost on that Sunday in 2004, when I stopped for a fill-up in Needles, but I seem to remember that the gas price was absurdly expensive. The emotional shock of spending so much on gas that morning left a long-time negative taste in my mouth concerning Needles.
Now, many years later, I am a much more seasoned traveler. I have learned, like many of the residents of, and visitors to, Needles (see here, here, here) themselves, to purposely drive the few extra miles to avoid having to gas up in Needles and make it to Mohave Valley or Bullhead City, Arizona where gas is historically about 40 cents to a dollar a gallon cheaper. The gas price situation in Needles is so crazy, that in September, 2012, when I asked my friend in Needles how much gas was there, she did not know. She told me the gas price in Bullhead City, AZ and said add a dollar and that is probably what it is in Needles.
This is when I began to fully appreciate the immediate personal and economic impact that CA state and county gas taxes, coupled with Needles' unique position on the I-40 between Barstow, CA, and Kingman, AZ, create the opportunity for, or at least the appearance of, price gouging.
Historical differences in gas prices between Needles, California, and the rest of the US can be seen in photos of Needles' gas stations' price boards posted on Flickr over the years.
CA Gas price data from here
US Gas price data from here