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With 'Subpar Parks,' Illustrator Amber Share Turns 1-Star National Park Reviews Into Art

An illustration from "Subpar Parks" (© Amber Share)
An illustration from "Subpar Parks" (© Amber Share)

National parks are popular destinations for people pining to get outdoors this summer after spending more than a year cooped up amid 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 of national parks and shares them on Instagram.

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

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

"Those kinds of reviews are people upset that Joshua Tree is a desert," Share says. "Or that they saw only one humpback whale at Kenai Fjords, which many people who’ve visited have told me they’d be over the moon to have even gotten to see."

Another one of Share's favorite complaints is when people sum up the park in the most reductive way, she says. Someone once described the Grand Canyon as simply a "very large hole," for example.

"That, to me, takes a special level of unimpressed," Share says. "To just see something so grand and so huge and just reduce it to the absolute minimal 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 began collecting complaints about parks some time ago, but her Instagram project didn't really take off until the pandemic began.

She credits the account's success with the fact people were trapped at home for long periods of time and says the ridiculous reviews eased the longing for that dream trip.

"Being able to kind of laugh at the people who hated exactly what you wish you were getting to do right now was a little bit of a salve for that sadness," Share says.

But maybe it's not about when you go visit a national park, but rather how long you stay there. Share spoke to an Everglades National Park ranger who says that the Everglades is the kind of park that whispers at you as opposed to other "grander" parks that might yell for obvious reasons.

"It’s a place that you really need to be willing to sit and spend some time and really let it seep in," Share says.

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

"I think people might think they’re going to just drive in the Yellowstone and immediately check off ... all sorts 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 just a few hours driving through it."

For Share, it took time for her to realize her potentially new favorite park.

"The Grand Canyon will definitely still always have a place in my heart," Share says. "But after this project, I think I’m converted on going to Alaska, which I always thought was not for me because I’m not at all a cold-weather person. 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.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.