Photographer Ryann Ford's images of rest stops on America's highways reveal a bygone era

Ford travelled across 17 states photographing the distinctive chunks of architectural Americana before they were pulled down

Gillian Orr@gillian_orr
Sunday 22 March 2015 01:00
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

In 1956, President Eisenhower introduced the Federal-Aid Highway Act, allocating billions of dollars to the construction of 41,000 miles of road across the United States.

The project aimed to improve consistency from coast to coast: line markings were to be painted the same width, and the asphalt was to be of the same depth in every state. There was, however, one area in which local authorities were given freedom: the rest areas that Eisenhower's government added for road safety. Every state could design its own.

Ryann Ford first noticed the diversity of these rest stops in 2009, when she decided to move from California to Austin, Texas, and drove the 1,300 or so miles between old home and new. These distinctive chunks of architectural Americana cropped up every so often, to her delight.

"I thought it would make a cool photography project, and after some research I found that they were being pulled down all across the country because of cuts to the highway budget," says the 32-year-old photographer. "They cost money to maintain, and people seem to prefer to use gas stations and drive-throughs when they want a break from the road these days."

Ford has travelled across 17 states and plans to publish a book of her images; she is rushing to finish it before even more of these evocative creations vanish.

"They're a representation of a bygone era," she explains. "We're always in such a hurry these days to get to our destination. Rest stops come from a time when families really loved to travel and long car trips were a luxury. People would take their time and stop and picnic and enjoy the outdoors. We just don't do that any more. It's sad."

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