If you travel the back roads of the Southwest long enough, you’ll discover eye-catching highway rest areas from a bygone era.
Built in the days before the interstate system, these artfully designed (and sometimes kitschy) road stops once served throngs of cross-country motorists. Today, they’re vanishing relics of the past.
Photographer Ryann Ford captures the unique aesthetics of these road stops in her new book, The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside. Ford got the idea for the book while traveling from Southern California to Austin, Texas on Route 66 — a nearly forgotten slice of Americana in its own right.
She noticed how few vintage road stops stand today compared to the bustling gas/fast-food stops that pepper the interstates. Ever since the Interstate System began in 1954, the solitary rest stops have declined, and since the Great Recession many of them have been disassembled or relocated.
“I immediately felt an urgency to shoot as many rest stops as I could before they all were gone forever,” says Ford. “My hope is that this book cultivates an interest in the often-overlooked beauty and significance of rest stops in the American travel experience.”
Below, you can see some of Ford’s favorite road stops, along with her commentary about each location.
Flower Mound, Texas – I -35
“This was the rest stop that inspired the project. As I researched rest stops to see what was beyond the Austin area, I was excited to find a photo of this rest stop, and then shocked to read it would soon be demolished. The next weekend I drove four hours north to shoot it, and sure enough, it was demolished a few weeks later.”
Lajitas, Texas – I-10
“This is one of the most remote rest areas in the country. These teepees are hidden just outside Big Bend National Park, right on the Rio Grande, which divides the United States and Mexico. As we were shooting, a pack of Javelinas ran by.”
Monument Valley National Park, Arizona
“This is one of the last picnic tables in Monument Valley. There were many more, but the rest were demolished so that a hotel overlooking the valley could be built. This table is located in a pull-off, offering a great view of “The Mittens” rock formations in the background.”
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
“White Sands National Monument, New Mexico – This is by far my favorite location. The picnic tables there are iconic, straight out of the ’60s, and the landscape is like no place else on earth. It was a hot summer day at sunset when we were shooting, and a thunderstorm had just rolled through, so hardly anyone was around. You couldn’t take a bad picture in this place.”
Thackerville, Oklahoma – I-35
“This stop was closed and fenced off, but we found a farm road just past the rest area that took us around back. It looked like it had been closed for years; some of the giant oaks had fallen on a few of the teepees, and it was winter, so the trees were bare.”
Bonneville Salt Flats – Wendover, Utah
“This was another favorite to shoot. Since beginning the project years ago, this had been at the top of my list to shoot. Once I found out that the book was a go, I made a special trip to Utah just to shoot this stop. The salt flats were magical. This has got to be one of the most incredible places in the country.”
The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Road Side is available now.