Highway rest stops might be our most underrated piece of Americana. They celebrate our vast country's freedom of movement, each one designed with a unique little nod to whatever place we happen to stop in. The best rest stops were not always designed as food courts crossed with jumbo convenience stores. Once upon a time, you might pull off a Texas highway for a picnic under a shelter shaped like longhorns. Today, you're more likely stop at something that looks like a shrunken mall outside Orlando to pick up the same Frappuccino you can get in Dubuque and maybe a Lightning McQueen keychain. And then forget you were ever there.
A century ago, of course, road trips were a bit weirder. When the US first built its expansive system of highways in the 1920s, rest stops were simple safety areas designed for motorists to take much-needed rests (the distances weren't longer back then, but the cars were sure slower and the roads less sleek). By the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps turned them into full-on roadside parks.
The post-war interstate era brought with it rest stops designed to make the driver feel like a part of the local environment. Tables were set at strategic viewpoints, and restrooms designed to reflect the surroundings. Stops at these unique rest areas became as much a part of the American road trip as fast-food lunches and the license-plate game.
But as time moved on, these rustic rest stops became relics. Drivers were more enamored with amenities than kitsch, leaving these outposts of mid-20th-century road trips to decline with age. Inspired by these vanishing rest stops, photographer Ryann Ford journeyed to capture them all before they disappeared. The two-year trip resulted in a new book called The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside, published by powerHouse Books. In it, she chronicles nearly 100 such rest stops in their distinctly American, artistic glory. She shared with us some of her favorite photos, and some insight on what made these stops so special