When photographer Ryann Ford moved to Texas in 2007, she began driving across the state, accepting photography assignments in every corner. Ford would take the quickest, main highways on her way there and look for the more scenic routes on the way back. This is where she found remnants of America’s beautiful and often crumbling rest stops. Due to the recession of the late 2000s, many of these great pieces of Americana were destroyed or left to decay. Ford made it her mission to capture as many as she could before they were gone. Her latest book, The Last Stop, is a stunning collection of charismatic rest stops across the country. Here, Ford shares some of her favorites and a few stories from the road.
Photo: 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 one, and then shocked to read it would soon be demolished. The next weekend, I drove four hours north to shoot it. Sure enough, it was demolished a few weeks later.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.Abiquiu, New Mexico, U.S. 84. I passed this stop when I was driving back to Texas after being in Colorado for Christmas. We were the first ones to stop there since snow had fallen overnight.Anthony, New Mexico.Badlands National Park, South Dakota.Fort Stockton, Texas, I-10. This is the one photo in the book that has a person or animal in the shot. After framing up the shot, I looked up to see a truck and horse trailer pull in, and noticed that the entire truck and trailer were completely covered in a University of Texas vehicle wrap. I put the trailer out of my mind and went back to shooting. As I was looking down into my camera, I saw some movement and looked back up. There in front of my lens were two men, walking a longhorn around the rest stop.
“Oh my gosh, that’s Bevo!”—the University of Texas mascot—my friend exclaimed. They must have been coming back from playing in the Rose Bowl, in Pasadena, California.
Sadly, just a few months ago, at about the time we were finishing up the design on the book, Bevo contracted bovine leukemia and passed away. After hearing of his passing, we made a couple of changes to the design of the book, moving the photo I took of Bevo to the last page, as a tribute to him. Running into him in the middle of West Texas, just the five of us, was definitely one of the most memorable experiences of the project.Near Lajitas, Texas, FM-170. 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 U.S. and Mexico. As we were shooting, a pack of javelinas ran by.Bonneville Salt Flats, Wendover, Utah, I-80. Since beginning the project years ago, this had been at the top of my list to shoot. Once I knew 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.Crescent Junction, Utah, I-70.Black Canyon City, Arizona, I-17.Lamesa, Texas, U.S. 87. I love this photo. I consider myself a minimalist, so finding this scene was great. We had just left the hotel for the morning and headed out, into the fog. A few minutes into the trip, I spotted this litter barrel. We were in the middle of West Texas, which is primarily oil country and cotton country. The earth was bright red, with cotton scattered all around, left over from the harvest, and the pump jacks were humming in the distance.Guthrie, Texas, U.S-83.Ely, Nevada, U.S. 50.Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona. We spent the night in nearby Ajo, Arizona, which we stumbled upon by chance. We woke up before sunrise and made the 30 minute drive south to the park. After arriving in the park, we still had to take a 30 minute off-road trail to make it to this stop before sunrise. We made it just in time. The sun had started to come up on the hill in the background, but the light was still nice and not too shadowed on the table. The park ranger said that this historic table won’t be around much longer.Lathrop, Missouri, I-35.Monahans Sandhills, Texas.Fish Camp, California, CA 41. I loved stumbling upon these old vintage outhouses at this small rest area just south of Yosemite National Park. They were so photogenic with their bright colors, set against the backdrop of pine trees, and they’re a style you don’t see much anymore. Though there were loads of cars speeding by the rest stop as we photographed, we were all alone. No one else stopped—they were probably in a hurry to get to Yosemite, just a few miles ahead.White Sands National Monument, New Mexico. This is by far my favorite location. The picnic tables there are iconic, straight out of the 60’s, 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.