This is a case where I absolutely judged a book by its cover. I spotted it sitting on our front table and was immediately intrigued. Rest stops may not sound all that interesting, but believe me when I say that this book is fascinating. Inspired by a road trip of her own, Ryann Ford catalogues unique rest stops from California to Louisiana (there’s even a few photographs of rest stops here in Arizona) with a keen eye for detail. Perfect for travel and photography buffs alike, The Last Stop is just glorious.— Heather H.
The Last Stop does far more than capture the remarkable, effective design of our nation's road stops. It preserves a moment in time that is quickly fading, a unique period in the American travel experience when the journey was just as important as the destination. It's clear these modest structures did far more than provide picnic tables, they shaped our collective experience of golden-age car travel across the vast United States.
While driving in 2007 on a solo road trip from California to central Texas, photographer Ryann Ford was struck by a recurring sight: humble, solitary rest stops. A nondescript blur outside the car window to most, the quirky rest stops on Ford's journey seized her attention - mock adobe dwellings in New Mexico, depression-era stone houses in Arizona, faux oil rigs in Texas. What was the story behind these playful pieces of Americana?
After doing some research, Ford was alarmed to learn that these rest areas were currently being closed and demolished all over the country. With countless commercial options at nearly every highway exit, and states needing to cut expenses, many felt that these old rest stops were no longer necessary. Upon learning the news, she immediately felt an urgency to capture as many as she could before they were gone forever.
Ford spent years on the road ducking under fences, stepping over fallen trees, and hiking through snow to reach some of these iconic rest stops; in doing so, she learned that they are so much more than toilets and tables - for the past several decades they have given millions of travelers from around the world rest, relief, hospitality and nostalgia.
States Ryann visited and featured in the book are: New Mexico, Texas, California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Montana, Mississippi, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota, and Louisiana.
About the Author
Raised in a Southern California mountain town so small it didn't even have a stoplight, Ryann Ford had the freedom to explore and observe from a young age. At age 12, she took her first photo using her father's old Pentax Spotmatic from Vietnam; at age 18 she enrolled in the renowned Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Photography. Living in Los Angeles, Ryann's creative work began to focus toward two subjects: artifacts of the abandoned American desert, and the fading landscape of California's Salton Sea. In 2007, Ryann packed up her things and made the move to Austin, Texas, taking Route 66 to get there. Along the way, she discovered her next photography subject - the rest stop - a project that culminated in The Last Stop series. This work has been covered by outlets such as the New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and NPR. Ryann is currently a commercial photographer who shoots regularly for such clients as Better Homes and Gardens, The New York Times, and Texas Monthly. Her meticulously composed architectural and interior photography has become an industry favorite, and it is this style - clean and thoughtful - that continues to inform her fine art today.
"In Ford’s distinctly American photographs, these strange little shelters resemble hallucinated oases against endless empty landscapes, visual metaphors for refuge and rejuvenation on a long open road."
"They’re the last vestiges of a bygone era, rendered obsolete by the ever-increasing affordability of air travel. There’s a tragically eerie beauty of these roadside relics – abandoned by history and a world that has passed them by, kind of like the drivers that they were created to serve."
"Most travelers think of rest areas as places to pee and grab some greasy food. Ryann Ford sees them as art. OK, we’re not talking about your typical modern-day rest area...The old mid-century architecture and quirky themes (she once saw a rest-area in the form of a teepee) won her heart."
"Her new book, "The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside," includes many of the 400 rest stops she's photographed across 19 states. It's a loving tribute to these modest monuments to travel. Her images show picnic tables, toilets and shelters -- clearly built to last -- dwarfed by the majestic panoramas of the American landscapes they've served for decades."
"Crisscrossing the country, she documented the rest stops’ eye-catching design and re-awoke a moment in American history when the journey was as important as the destination itself – and when you could stop to take in your surroundings without being sold anything."
"Truck stops aren't renowned for their glamour — since most people probably care more about finally finding a Starbucks than about appreciating the scenery. But photographer Ryann Ford has found moments of unexpected beauty along America's highways."
"The rest stop is a man-made oasis. Some are fancier—WiFi is now offered at many, along with various fast food and gas options—but the primitive set-up of a bench and shade (and sometimes a random barbecue pit) can bring tears to the eyes after a hundred-mile stretch on the interstate. It's the latter that caught the attention of Austin-based photographer Ryann Ford—beginning with an unusual red, white and blue rest area she spotted in Flower Mound, Texas, off the I-35. It was demolished only a few weeks after she took the photo."
"Through her photographs of modest roadside rest stops, Ryann Ford captures an optimistic moment in American history when highways began to span the country."
"Her photographs are intriguing not just for what they show – the form, function and occasional kitsch of rest stops as well as the often elemental beauty of the vast landscapes around them – but also for what they don’t: cars and people."
"From musician Joe Ely’s poetic foreword through the ironic final images, this is a moving ode to a vanishing American relic: the open-highway rest stop. We’re not talking about mini-strip-malls with fast food chains or knick-knack stores; these are lonely picnic tables and remote outposts, often graced with fanciful mid-century designs and grandiose views. The map pinpoints indicate that most locations run from the midwest to the Pacific ocean, reflecting Ford’s cross-country sojourn in that part of the U.S. What a long, strange trip it must have been."
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