Twenty minutes west of Casa Grande is the Sonoran Desert National Monument, 496,000 acres of pristine desert with lush vegetation. It is easy to find. Interstate 8 to Yuma bisects the monument and includes a couple of rest areas and a number of interchanges that allow you to access some of the back roads that weave throughout the mountains and valleys of the monument.
There are numerous vantage points to take photos of the scenery, including the majestic Table Top Mountain that towers over the Vekol Valley. There is even a trail leading up the mountain.
President Bill Clinton designated the area a monument by proclamation in 2001 to preserve the swath of the Sonoran Desert in the United States.
Just south of the city is Casa Grande Mountain. Numerous trails run through the city park that are popular with hikers and mountain bikers, especially in the cooler winter and spring months. There is even a trail section that runs through a cluster of cholla. When the sun is right, the cacti look like statues of teddy bears standing at attention.
There are many scenic spots in the park for photos.
So, when the city needed a good promotional picture that was representative of the Sonoran Desert, where did they go?
That’s right. The iconic desert photo being used in city promotional materials was taken 90 miles away from Casa Grande. The location wasn’t even in Pinal County, which also has picturesque desert locales like the Superstition Mountains near Apache Junction, Picketpost Mountain near Superior, the area along the Florence-Kelvin Highway, the Catalina Mountains near Oracle, Picacho Peak State Park or Ironwood Forest National Monument near Red Rock.
Instead of using an image from these locales, or the areas near Casa Grande, the city chose to purchase a stock photo.
What a wasted opportunity.
Reporter Heather Smathers didn’t recognize the location of the photo when she saw it, so she asked around and found out the city had purchased it from a website showing desert photos. Professional photographer Anton Foltin told Heather the photograph was taken “near Lake Pleasant, 3 miles east of Morristown.”
Hey, I guess all desert photos are the same. Who cares where they were taken?
The city has used the photo on multiple pages on its website and in other promotional material.
During the State of the City address, Mayor Craig McFarland said marketing was “near and dear to his heart” and one of the goals of the council is to provide a positive image of the city.
McFarland said ideally the city would like to “create an image of the city that 90 percent of residents rate favorably within five years.”
If that’s the case, then it might be a good thing to actually pick images from the city to promote the city.
There are numerous amateur and professional photographers living in Casa Grande who would have been more than happy to give the city pictures of the Sonoran Desert free of charge in exchange for credit.
The city could have even had a contest asking residents to submit their photos. The best resource for promoting a community is the residents.
I like living in Casa Grande. I may joke about the city sometimes (especially when it comes to how it promotes itself). But I chose to live here and when my friends in Phoenix and Tucson ask me why, I tell them.
It’s because it’s not Phoenix or Tucson.
If the mayor wants to better market the city, then all he needs to do is ask residents what they like about the city. Sure, he will get some snarky remarks, but that is part of the process. If the remarks are witty, don’t be afraid to laugh along.
Using material and content from the residents may produce some mixed results. But at least they will be honest ones.
When it comes to image, truth in advertising is still the best route to go.
Andy Howell is assistant managing editor. He can be reached at 520-423-8614 or firstname.lastname@example.org.