I hope the photos inspire people to slow down and make their trips more about the journey than just the destination
The New York Times’ photographer Ryann Ford travelled the length and breadth of the US to capture a little piece of US road trip history. She tells us why she decided to take on this epic journey
When The New York Times‘ photographer Ryann Ford moved from California to Texas, she started spotting quirky rest stops on the roadside when she was on her way to shoots. The architectural teepees, oil derricks and wagons caught her attention, so one night when she returned home she Googled “rest areas” to see how many were out there. Ford found an article to say that the rest stops she had started to fall in love with were now facing closure due to budget cuts, and many were set to be demolished.
Her idea of featuring these rest stops in a photo series became even more urgent and Ford spent the next few months travelling tens of thousands of miles so that she could snap the unique rest areas before the bulldozers were called in. By the end of the project she had visited more than 20 states.
“These stops are relics from the bygone era of automobile travel. It’s clear these modest structures did far more than provide picnic tables, they shaped our collective experience of the golden-age of car travel across the vast United States,” says Ford.
To make sure that she got the right lighting, Ford would try to spend the night somewhere close so that she could photograph the stop at sunrise. “I really wanted to each photograph to be a portrait of the rest stop, and not have a human element distract,” Ford explains.
She adds: “I hope the photographs show viewers something that they may have forgotten from their childhood, or inspire someone for their next road trip.”
Ford’s favourite US trip remains the famed Route 66 section from Santa Monica in California to Oklahoma City. “It was amazing to retrace the steps that so many made in the ‘50s, and see so many iconic stops such as famous diners and motels and silly roadside attractions such as The World’s Largest Ball of Twine.”
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 drift of javelinas [wild pigs] ran by.
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.
This is by far my favourite 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.
This is another great example of Americana-type architecture. This area is known for oil, hence the oil derrick themed rest stop.
This is one of the most architecturally significant stops in the book. There are only a handful of stops that are in this fun Americana style. I believe that the state hoped to give a nod to the history of the area, which was developed by pioneers in the late 1800s
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.
Photographs by Ryann Ford, from The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside, published by powerHouse Books