May 30, 2016

Roadside Rest Shelters: Destinations All Their Own

  • By: Lauren Walser
  • Photography: Ryann Ford
Rest Stop in Abiquiu, New Mexico

This rest area stands against the desert backdrop near Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Think back to your last road trip. Where did you stop for a bite to eat? What scenery did you study when you paused to stretch your legs?

Before options like drive-thrus and commercial travel centers made road travel a little more convenient, small roadside rest areas, many of which were built as part of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, were a driver’s only option.

On a drive from Los Angeles to Austin, Texas, in 2007, photographer Ryann Ford took notice of these rest shelters. “As a photographer, it’s hard not to notice them,” she says. “They’re perfect minimalist structures set on a perfect landscape. And they’re each different in their own way.”

For the last seven years, Ford has traveled the country documenting rest shelters along highways and in state and national parks.

“I think they tell the story of a different time,” she says. “Now, we’re so rushed with our travel. We just want to get from point A to point B really quickly, whether it’s by plane or jumping on the fastest highway and getting there as fast as possible. If you eat, it’s through a drive-thru. [These rest shelters] tell the story of a different era in travel, when it was about the journey.”

You can explore Ford’s full collection of photographs in her book, The Last Stop: Vanishing Relics of the American Roadside published by powerHouse Books. You can also see a sampling of her photos in the Summer 2015 issue of Preservation.

We’ve shared a few more of her images here. Do you have memories of roadside rest areas like these? Share them with

Lauren Walser served as the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

The National Trust's African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund has awarded $3 million in grants to 33 places preserving Black history.

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