A Look at America’s Vanishing Roadside Rest Stops

Texas-based photographer Ryann Ford’s book documents rest stops throughout the country.

By Joy DiazJune 24, 2016 12:03 pm,

Childhood road trips are filled with good memories: singing in the backseat, playing “I Spy” out the car window, building a wall with pillows or stuffed animals to keep your sibling from crossing over onto “your side” of the seat. And – just when you thought you couldn’t hold it any longer – a rest stop would appear in the distance.

But rest stops are changing. Because our relationships with the automobile and road trip are changing.

Austin-based photographer Ryann Ford noticed that when she moved to Texas in 2007. She decided to make a book about the history of the rest stop, called The Last Stop. She says it originally started as just a photo project, but as she dug deeper, she learned a lot of history along the way.

“It was so much fun to learn the story behind these,” Ford says. “It was so great to learn all about the Interstate Highway System that Eisenhower developed in the ’50s, and how all of the states got to design their rest stops.”

Ryann Ford

Picnic table at a rest stop near Sonora, Texas on Interstate 10

The book documents the demise of the rest stop. Ford says when she began the project, it was in the middle of the Great Recession,

“States were doing anything they could to slash budgets,” she says, “and unfortunately, these little roadside tables were one of the first thing to go, so I just thought it would be a really great photography project.”

Ryann Ford

A rest stop in Galveston

But although her project shows the decline of these attractions, Ford says that some people who have seen her work have been inspired to take a road trip of their own to see the sights.

“I think that we’re just so used to zipping through the drive-through these days, hopping on a plane, and it’s been really interesting to see folks’ reactions when they’ve seen the photographs,” she says. “I’ve had so many people just tell me, ‘Oh wow, rather than flying, you’ve really inspired me to hit the open road this summer.'”

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.