Even if they enlisted every man, woman and child in Sanders, including Dorthea, who lives in back of the Red Barn Trading Post and can't skip work that day, even if they persuaded them all to hold hands with their arms stretched to the limit, they still couldn't cover the distance from Mile Post 339 to Mile Post 340 on the desolate bit of I-40 swinging through town.

So where are all the people going to come from to ensure that the Hands Across America May 25 extravaganza doesn't go bust in this nearly empty patch of eastern Arizona?

And if by some miracle enough do show up -- 80,000 are needed to link hands in Apache County (pop. 52,000) alone -- what are they going to eat, where are they going to sleep, how will the septic tanks take the load?

That's what Dee Stublefield and Kathy Simshauser would like to know. So far, no one has told them.

"Do they realize just how isolated an area this is?" asked Simshauser, manager of the Best Western Chieftain Motel. She sat in her office exchanging glum looks with her boss, general manager Stublefield.

They're not against the Hands Across America idea, they said, particularly when the program, run by USA for Africa, will raise money for hungry and homeless Americans. But they know the 10 outdoor toilets they're building aren't going to be enough, and then there is the problem of people camping on private roadside land.

The two run the only major motel (52 rooms plus restaurant) within 50 miles, and they don't like the thought of being overrun.

"We talk to some people and they say, 'Dee, there's no way they can get that many people to this isolated area,' " Stublefield said. "Then others say, 'Dee, they're gonna have Kenny Rogers appearing 22 miles away in Lupton. They'll get them out.' "

Linda Buchanan, a doctor's office manager serving temporarily as a Hands Across America coordinator for the area, wrote down the two women's complaints but pleaded ignorance. Her orders come from state headquarters near Phoenix, what she and others living on this semiarid plateau call "The Valley." "I don't know what's going on down there," she said.ip,1

In this case, "down there" is a Scottsdale, Ariz., warren of small offices, dividers and tables in a former lumberyard office that's about to be demolished for a new office building. Bill Glover, logistics coordinator for Sanders as well as the rest of the state, smiles at the sound of complaints like a man at peace with his God and his computer program.

On the wall is a multicolored map resembling a chart of the Battle of Gettysburg. The skirmish line is a series of interstate highways, beginning with I-10 at the California border, picking up I-17 from Phoenix north to Flagstaff, then proceeding via I-40 east through Sanders and on to New Mexico. Blue, orange, pink, green and yellow lines indicate where Glover plans to deploy Hands Across America participants.

Celebrities will be used, but Kenny Rogers -- rumors in Sanders notwithstanding -- is scheduled to be far away on the New Mexico-Texas border. Where steep roadside cliffs make parking or standing dangerous, banners will be used to extend the line safely.

It is the logistical challenge of the year, recruiting 6 million Americans willing to contribute a minimum $10 for the privilege of standing in a line that will stretch, if places like Sanders find enough people, from Long Beach, Calif., to New York City at precisely 3 p.m. eastern daylight time (noon in Sanders) on May 25. Glover, 40, a Phoenix construction manager, may have the hardest job -- filling the Arizona deserts -- but he seems to enjoy it.

He acknowledges the lack of toilets. He expects people to "handle that problem like they would if they were out camping," finding a secluded spot among the red bluffs north of the highway or among the sagebrush, yucca plants and cedar scrub growing all around. Glover would prefer participants not spend the night on the roadway, although one Arizona volunteer is organizing some temporary campsites. Glover wants people to arrive at 10 a.m., "like they were going to a picnic."

Local coordinators will hear more about their mile designations, traffic flow and safety rules as the day draws nearer, Glover said, and went on to describe the dynamics of an event in which 50 percent of the participants are expected to join in the last 48 hours.

American Express, which has reserved 22 rooms at the Chieftain, promises to provide the 1,320 people (figuring a four-foot arm span per person) needed to fill a particularly difficult mile near Navajo, 14 miles west of Sanders. Buchanan has already signed up 21 people to pledge a penny a pin on her bowling prowess (a 475 three-game average) at a fundraiser for the project. Glover's computer in recent days has begun to light up with accelerating registrations.

"Ken Kragen [the Hollywood agent who masterminded USA for Africa and conceived Hands Across America] said if we had 1 million sign up by May 1 we'd make it, and we had 1.2 million sign up," Glover said.

As for the worried merchants of Sanders and Apache County, Glover noted that the mayor of Holbrooke, in neighboring Navajo County, has already placed double orders for the sandwiches he expects his restaurants will sell that day. "People are going to make money," Glover said.

People around Sanders have never been short of mercantile ingenuity. The highway billboards tell the story: "Indian Ruins, Gas, This Exit," "Museum Quality Indian Jewelry, Cigarettes $7.99 Carton," "Visit Our Navajo Rug Room."

And no one is more enterprising than the town's single elected official, the justice of the peace, Judge John Yellowhorse. A short, wiry, 47-year-old father of eight, Yellowhorse owns the celebrated Fort Yellowhorse, a rickety life-size reproduction of a 19th-century cavalry stockade that sits along I-40 in Lupton on the New Mexico border. "The wind has blown it down about 20 times now and I've had to put it back up," Yellowhorse said, taking a visitor on a tour in his white pickup truck.

Yellowhorse constructed the fort to attract tourists to his arts and crafts shops nearby. Now he has decided to turn it and acres of nearby scrub land at the foot of a high bluff into a temporary trailer park and campground for Hands Across America enthusiasts.

"HANDS ACROSS AMERICA, FORT YELLOWHORSE," a huge new yellow sign announces. He plans to post several more 16-by-4-foot signs between Lupton and Gallup, N.M. Some officials expect 200,000 Indians, including many of Yellowhorse's fellow Navajos, to attend a special powwow social gathering in Gallup next Friday and Saturday in preparation for the Sunday event.

Peterson Zah, chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council, has endorsed Hands Across America. Norma Tarango, coordinating group participation in Arizona, said she counts on Indians to fill most of I-40 around Sanders. Yellowhorse has agreed to organize the welcome.

With business slow at his little Sanders courtroom, Yellowhorse leaned over his checklists at a Lupton truck stop restaurant. Garbage bags, medical kits, fire trucks, 60 portopotties. "I got more fire extinguishers," he said. "Where can I get those filled?" Two of his friends from Sanders, Ralph and Peggy Morley, sat with him. "You ought to call Julie about those," Peggy said.

Yellowhorse first read of the national fundraiser a week before in the Gallup Independent. Now he is assigned to coordinate a mile on the New Mexico side of the border as well as some undetermined stretch of road on the Arizona side. "I'm going into debt," he said. "I got only $200 for what is a $15,000 operation."

A tractor was already leveling ground and pulling weeds out by the fort. Yellowhorse planned to rent 3,740 staked camping and RV spaces at $5 apiece. Snow flurries were falling, but the judge had consulted the calendar and concluded happily that May 25 would have a full moon. "I predict 75 to 80 degrees, warm and beautiful," he said.

In other parts of the country and in Arizona, couples are planning weddings on the Hands Across America line. Yellowhorse, for whom marriages are a professional responsibility, said he was ready to do the same here. He has a permanent wedding platform built beside the colorful bluff behind Fort Yellowhorse. Two years ago he was married there himself, for the fourth time.

The word is spreading. Yellowhorse noted that even Crazy Ronnie, a popular disc jockey at KGAK-AM in Gallup, broadcast from the top of a 50-foot pole for 24 hours to raise money for the event.

"I'm just calling 10 people, and asking them to call 10 people," Yellowhorse said, "and that's how we'll get it done."