Illustrator Amber Share turns 1-star national park reviews into art with ‘Subpar Parks’

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National parks are popular destinations for people keen to get out this summer after spending more than a year locked in the middle of the pandemic.

But entering with unrealistic expectations could lead some visitors to leave disappointed. So, to help visitors get the most out of their experience, artist Amber Share collects 1-star reviews on national parks and shares them on Instagram.

Share has linked some of the most eccentric 1-star reviews of national parks to her own beautiful park illustrations and compiled them in her new book, “Subpar Parks: America’s Most Extraordinary National Parks and Their Least Impressed Visitors”.

Illustrations from “Subpar Parks” (© Amber Share)

Share says the complaints she mainly focused on have to do with the experience of people visiting a park and their thoughts on its landscapes. At the start of “Subpar Parks”, she categorizes the types of common complaints she has found. One type that stands out is when people complain about the feature the park is known for.

An illustration of "Lower parks" (© Amber Share)
An illustration from “Subpar Parks” (© Amber Share)

“Those kinds of reviews are upset that Joshua Tree is a desert,” Share said. “Or that they only saw one humpback whale in Kenai Fjords, which many people who have visited told me they would love to have even seen.”

Another of Share’s favorite complaints is when people sum up the park in the most simplistic way, she says. Someone once described the Grand Canyon as just a “really big hole”, for example.

“That, for me, takes on a particular level of non-printing,” Share says. “Just see something so big and huge and narrow it down to the absolute minimum description you could find. “

The Grand Canyon sparked Share’s fascination with national parks when she was just 10 years old, she writes in her book. The illustrator and graphic designer started collecting complaints about the parks some time ago, but her Instagram project didn’t really take off until the pandemic began.

She attributes the success of the account to the fact that people have been trapped at home for long periods of time and says the ridiculous reviews have dampened the desire for that dream trip.

“Being able to laugh at people who hated exactly what you wish you were doing right now was a bit of a balm for that sadness,” Share said.

But it may not be about when you go to visit a national park, but rather how long you stay there. Share spoke to a ranger at Everglades National Park who says the Everglades is the kind of park that whispers you as opposed to other “bigger” parks that might scream for obvious reasons.

An illustration of "Lower parks" (© Amber Share)
An illustration from “Subpar Parks” (© Amber Share)

“It’s a place where you really have to be prepared to sit down and hang out and really let it creep in,” Share explains.

For visitors with high expectations, Share says to avoid letting judgment get in the way of visits to national parks.

“I think people might think they’re just going to drive into Yellowstone and check off immediately… all kinds of iconic things that people have come to know. [it] for, ”Share says. “But … to really understand what a place like Yellowstone is, [it] requires more than a few hours of driving.

For Share, it took a long time for him to realize his new potentially favorite park.

“The Grand Canyon will definitely always have a place in my heart,” Share says. “But after this project I think I converted to go to Alaska, which I always thought wasn’t for me because I’m not a cold weather person at all. But now that I’ve done this project, I absolutely have to go.


Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Xcaret Nuñez adapted it for the web.



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