Photo, video campaign spotlights Nevada’s ‘Loneliest Highway’

Dee Helming faces some tough choices during her workdays in the office of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, out along Highway 50 east of Fallon.

Should she have the professional photographer shoot the wine walk — the one where folks amble downhill with glasses in hand then ride a hay wagon back up to the Stokes Castle for tri-tip — or the Main Street car show that celebrates the centennial of the Lincoln Highway?

Seventy lonely miles to the east, Andrea Rossman is making similar choices in Eureka — the summertime drag races out at the airport or the rodeo at the county fair?

Communities from Dayton to Ely sell visitors on the idea that Highway 50, the stretch of pavement that links them together, is “The Loneliest Road in America.”

An ambitious plan to create a library of video and photographic images of the 17 million acres of largely unpopulated territory hopes to make the highway a bit less lonely.

And for Reno photographer Patrick Pharris, the assignment opens opportunities to tell fresh stories and look closely at countryside through which he’s traveled during the 50 years he has lived in northern Nevada.

“We love doing what we do,” says Pharris, the owner of Patrick Media, whose work in the Highway 50 corridor is funded by $54,000 in grants from the Nevada Commission on Tourism.

The video and still photography that Pharris is creating will become a cornerstone of efforts to draw more visitors to the region, which has been dubbed “Pony Express Territory” by state tourism officials.

Bruce Rettig, whose Charter Advertising/Design in South Lake Tahoe creates marketing materials for Pony Express Territory, says video will be used in social media such as YouTube as well as new Web sites.

And he says the still photography created by Pharris in coming months helps fill a void in the creation of print advertising for the region.

Patrick Media has committed six days to each of the communities and visitor attractions that support Pony Express Territory.

Like a kid clicking through a toy retailer’s Web site, tourism executives across the territory are trying to make good decisions about their use of the creative resource.

Explains Austin’s Helming, “There is no way we could afford the time that Pat is putting into this.”

The creative team headed by Pharris started their work last autumn in Ely, where the Nevada Northern Railway Museum was eager to quickly develop advertising to capitalize on a History Channel profile of its operating railroad.

Mark Bassett, executive director of the rail museum, calls video an “incredibly powerful” tool, whether it’s used on YouTube or in the creation of traditional television commercials that air in Las Vegas and other markets.

The Nevada Northern Railway is using video, for instance, as it sells the opportunity for visitors to put themselves at the controls of a powerful steam locomotive or take the opportunity to spend a week as a railroad worker. (Yes, visitors actually pay for the opportunity to experience the life of a gandy dancer.)

Pharris says residents of the Highway 50 communities have dropped what they were doing to tell their stories on video and show the treasures that create excellent photographs.

Images of a visit to Middlegate Station — that’s the bar, restaurant and gas station where even-lonelier Highway 361 takes off from Highway 50 south toward Gabbs — are among the photographer’s personal favorites so far.

To ensure he can give sufficient time to each of the six communities along Highway 50, as well as Great Basin National Park, Pharris created a master calendar to avoid conflicts.

And cooperation over the shooting schedule has helped to build closer ties between participants in the Pony Express Territory, says Rick Gray, executive director of the Fallon Convention and Tourism Authority and the president of the Pony Express Territory.

“It helps to bring some cohesiveness to the territory’s marketing messages,” he says.

The grants that finance the video and photography effort are part of a Nevada Commission on Tourism effort to help rural communities in the state market themselves to potential visitors around the world.


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