Photographer Captures the Beauty of Rest Stops Along American Highways

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico.
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico. / White Sands National Monument, New Mexico.

When photographer Ryann Ford moved from California to Texas, she began noticing a number of publicly-funded rest areas alongside the Interstate Highway System. Enamored by the quirky charm of the 1950s structures, Ford started researching the forgotten American tradition. She soon found out that, thanks to fast-food restaurants and gas stations, the humble rest stops are disappearing from the American landscape. And she vowed to document as many as she could before they are all closed down or demolished.

As the economy suffered, so did the budget to keep these areas around. “You’d think these picnic tables were pretty cheap, but there’s a lot of monthly maintenance costs to mow the grass and take out the trash," Ford told Slate"A lot of states just started with barricading them off and closing them. They didn't tear them down at first, thinking the recession would get better.”

Near Abiquiu, New Mexico, U.S. 84.

Over the course of five years, the photographer captured more than 150 different rest stops across the country. She found that these stops were established to help connect people with the areas they were driving through. They incorporate the culture, architecture, or themes that reflect their locations. For example, a rest stop in California might have a wagon wheel to symbolize the Old West.

Although this project started out as a collection of attractive pictures, Ford realized it had a deeper meaning.

Near Big Bend National Park, Texas.

"I started getting emails from people reminiscing about their childhood road trips, people who would remember specific rest stops and asked if I had been there," she told Roadside Relics "I just realized what an important project it was. I feel like I am archiving their own personal history a little bit." 

Ford recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to publish a book filled with her pictures. Last Stop will be published by PowerHouse Books, but so far there's no word of a release date. 

"Rest areas have become relics of America's roadside past," Ford explained on her Kickstarter. "These sites not only illustrate a unique period in the American travel experience, but are significant for the architectural forms found within them."

Near Burleson, Texas, I-35.

Near Post, Texas, U.S. 84.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona.

Near Thackerville, Oklahoma, I-35.

Galveston, Texas.

Walker Lake, Nevada, U.S. 95.