This Austin Photographer Tries to Preserve Road Trip Culture Through Photos

desktop-1418315967By Julie Redwood

Finding inspiration in her latest photography series entitled, “The Last Stop”, Ryann Ford is a California native found beauty on the road leading to her new home in Austin, Texas.

She states, “For the past five years, I’ve driven all over the country documenting America’s vanishing rest stops. With drive-thrus and gas stations at nearly every exit, traditional rest areas are losing the fight and are being lost in nearly every state. To date I’ve traveled over 20,000 miles across 17 states and have shot over 150 of them.”

Abiquiu – New Mexico, near U.S. 84.

 

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Anthony – New Mexico, near I-10, the New Mexico/Texas Border.

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Augustus – Texas, near U.S. 84.

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“My inspiration was the structures themselves. I am a big fan of mid-century architecture and can usually spot it when I see it. When I moved to Texas (eight years ago) and started noticing these old stops set out on gorgeous minimalist landscapes, I was instantly inspired. There are tables shaded by faux oil rigs, tepees, wagon wheels, and geometric shapes echoing classic mid-century design. They are a really great example of Americana.”

Austin – Nevada.

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Big Bend National Park – Texas.

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“When the project was still in its early stages, I hadn’t shown the photos to anyone at that point and wasn’t sure if other people would be as excited about the project as I was. After about three and a half years of working on it, and shooting about 100 stops, I decided it was finally time to release some of the photos and see what people thought. I first submitted them to Photo-Eye, a very well respected photography site and gallery, and was thrilled to find out they were accepted into their online showcase”, says Ryann.

“From there they went to Feature Shoot, another esteemed photography blog and the project kind of exploded from there. The New York Times Magazine ran about 9 shots and I started receiving emails from people all over the country sharing their stories and memories from their time at rest stops. I think the project has revealed something much deeper in the American consciousness and I think that people feel like this project is in a way preserving their history, too.”

Burleson – Texas, near I-35.

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Clines Corners – New Mexico, near U.S. 66/I-40

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Galveston – Texas

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Juan Santa Cruz Picnic Area – Tucson, Arizona.

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“When I started the project I did a little research and was alarmed to read that they were currently being closed and demolished all over the country. I immediately felt an urgency to document as many as I could, as quickly as I could. It was also really interesting to find out how much thought went into these stops.”

Ryann then states, “When Eisenhower designed the Interstate Highway System in 1956, it standardized highway design from coast to coast.The one element that stayed within the jurisdiction of the states, however, was their rest stop design. States really took advantage of that and used the best architects and designers, and their creativity, to design stops that represented the different regions of their state and their cultural and historical significance.”

Thackerville – Oklahoma, near I-35.

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White Sands National Monument – New Mexico.

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“Before setting out on a trip I spent some time planning. I would usually use Google Images, Flickr, etc. to search for people’s snapshots of rest stops all over the country. When I found one that looked interesting, I would figure out where it was located and plan a trip around usually 5-10 that I had found online. I usually went out on week long trips.”

Millers – Nevada, near U.S. 95.

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Monahans Sandhills State Park – Texas.

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Monument Valley – Arizona.

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“When I started the project, I had planned on trying to shoot some in all 50 states”, says Ryann. When I headed into the Midwest and the Northeast however, it was very difficult to find any, and if I did, it would usually just be a non-descript wooden or concrete picnic table”.

“I think because of how desolate the southwest is, and how extremely hot the weather can get, the tables were always designed with structures shading the table, which added to the design, and there were a lot more built because of the long stretches of road with no amenities available. The northeast is a more densely populated part of the country, and trees often shelter the table, hence the lack of structure”.

Organ – New Mexico, Near U.S. 70.

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Petrified Forest National Park – Arizona.

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Pojoaque – New Mexico, near U.S. 84/285.

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“When I have to travel anywhere now, I always prefer to drive, even if it’s a two or more day trip. I just prefer driving over flying and I prefer driving smaller roads versus freeways and superhighways. It is more about the journey than the destination for me, for sure!”

Saguaro National Park – Arizona

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Post – Texas, near U.S. 84.

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Sonora – Texas, near I-10

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“Weird things are one of the best parts about road trips! One of the craziest things was at Walker Lake, Nevada. I had seen a preview of the tables there online, and set out to find them. We had been driving all day to get there, however, and didn’t make it by sunset. We had planned to camp, but when we got there it was too dark to see to set up the tent, so we decided to just stay at a motel and shoot the tables at sunrise.

When we pulled in at sunrise, we got out of the car and started walking toward the tables and started to notice that every bush, every rock, everything, was completely covered in spider webs. It looked like a haunted house. Once I got close enough to the first table, I could see that there were giant spiders everywhere! I’ve never seen spiders this large in my life. We tiptoed around for about a half hour and got the shots, and then got the heck out of there as fast as possible.

I Googled “Walker Lake spiders” on my phone as soon as I got back to the car and sure enough, there was some strange phenomenon going on. I would have died if we had set up our tent and woken up with spiders crawling everywhere!”

At the moment, Ford is starting a kickstarter campaign to help create a photobook of the “The Last Stop”. If you would like to help, you can go to her campaign page and donate. You can also view more of her word on her website or visit her Instagram page. 

 What do you think of her work? Do you live in the southwest? There is a certain atmosphere and culture of the southwest that many people seem to gravitate to. Let’s hear your thoughts!

4 Comments

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