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Arts + Culture

Snapshot: The Forgotten Rest Stops of the American Roadside

On a series of road trips through the US, photographer Ryann Ford uncovers a forgotten slice of Americana.

See recent posts by Christine Ajudua

A decade ago, while moving to Austin from Southern California via Route 66, photographer Ryann Ford found herself captivated by pit stops—not your standard, soulless service stations offering fast food and fuel, but rather sheltered picnic tables fashioned as teepees, oil derricks and wagon wheels. These abandoned sites once served as halfway points during 60’s-era road trips through America’s most desolate landscapes. When Ford learned that these midcentury relics were being demolished, she set out to preserve them on film. Now in June, powerHouse Books is publishing The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside, featuring 75 shots from Ford’s roadside adventures. Here, she tells us about six of her favorites.

Photographs by Ryann Ford, from The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside, published by powerHouse Books

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Lajitas, Texas, FM 170

“These teepees are hidden just outside Big Bend National Park, right on the Rio Grande, which divides the United States and Mexico. It’s one of the most remote rest areas in the country. As we were shooting, a pack of javelinas ran by.”

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White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

“You couldn’t take a bad picture in this place. The picnic tables are iconic, straight out of the sixties, 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.”

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Monument Valley, 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.”

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Flower Mound, Texas, I-35

“This was the stop that inspired the project. I’d read about a rest area just north of Ft. Worth that was ‘a breeding ground for crime.’ Evidently a lot of prostitution and drug deals went on there, and it was scheduled for demolition. They showed a photo—it had a roofline mimicking the shape of longhorn horns, and on its sidewalls was the Texas flag. It had so much personality and charm; I just couldn’t believe they were tearing it down. The next weekend I drove up there to shoot it. A few weeks later I had to drive up there again for work and it was gone. After that, I started documenting as many as I could.”

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Thackerville, Oklahoma, I-35

“The 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.”

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Fish Camp, California

“I stumbled upon these old vintage outhouses at this small rest stop near Yosemite National Park. They were so photogenic with their bright colors set against the backdrop of pine trees, and a style you don’t see very often. Though there were loads of cars speeding by the rest stop as we photographed, we were all alone; no one else stopped, probably in a hurry to get to Yosemite, just a few miles north.”

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