‘Subpar Parks’ Book: 1-Star Reviews of National Parks Turned Into Gold

Amber Share’s new book “Subpar Parks” turns one-star reviews into gold.

Eh, the Grand Canyon is okay, we guess. | LeStudio/Shutterstock

Eh, the Grand Canyon is okay, we guess. | LeStudio/Shutterstock

Amber Share was seeking inspiration for a new creative project when she happened to scroll through the National Parks subreddit.  There, someone had posted a compilation of one-star reviews of National Parks.

“Nothing interesting to look at but sand,” said one reviewer of Joshua Tree National Park. “This is the ugliest place I’ve ever seen,” another declared about Death Valley. For one visitor, the bubbling mud pits of Lassen Volcanic National Park were “a tad underwhelming.” Unimpressed by Washington’s Mount Rainier:  “I’ve seen bigger mountains.”

Courtesy of Amber Share

The absurdity of the reviews—and the ludicrous notion of “reviewing” nature in general—struck a nerve for Share. “We live in this culture where the anonymity of the Internet just gives people license to complain about things,” says the designer and illustrator. “Criticizing nature almost feels like a parody of that ridiculousness.”

Share began culling Google, TripAdvisor, and Yelp for more disparaging reviews (“Honestly, I was shocked the first time I realized that there was a Yelp profile for some parks”).  She then hand-lettered the injurious remarks on retro illustrations, and made an Instagram account for her creations. To her surprise, it was an instant hit.

Courtesy of Amber Share

“Instagram has a lot of really curated, beautiful photos of parks, and I’m showing up here with these kind of cartoony illustrations,” Share says. “But I’ve had so many people tell me that a certain park they’ve never heard of before is now at the top of their bucket list after I shared it because they were like ‘oh, let me Google this,’ and went down a rabbit hole. I think in its own weird way [the project] has inspired wanderlust, which makes me very happy.”

A frequent national park visitor herself, Share has cultivated a love and appreciation for the outdoors ever since her family road tripped to the Grand Canyon when she was ten. “I almost think of the movie Inside Out where she has her core memories,” she says. “Going to the Grand Canyon is such a core memory of my childhood for me. It just feels like this overwhelmingly huge, beautiful thing.”

Courtesy of Amber Share

Share’s tongue-in-cheek illustrations are all compiled in her new book, Subpar Parks, on sale July 13. Peruse 76 pieces covering all 63 National Parks, and then some. And she’s done her research: Each entry is accompanied by fun facts (“One of my favorites is that in Kobuk Valley, oftentimes caribou outnumber people”), mysteries like the moving rocks of Death Valley, tons of puns, and a special emphasis on indigenous provenance.

“Every park has history and significance to at least one native tribe. My hope was that I could at least pique people’s interest that there are these stories to learn,” Share explains. “And I personally like to learn that information because it gives me a whole other depth of appreciation when I’m there.”

Courtesy of Amber Share

Share concludes Subpar Parks with general etiquette and tips for visiting public grounds—like knowing your limits, bringing proper gear, and checking the rules before you roll up to a park with your pet. And always make use of rangers. “It’s their job to know every nook and cranny of the park,” she says. “I think people think ‘Uh oh, here comes a ranger, I’m in trouble.’ And that might be the case if you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing. But they are a great resource.”

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist’s Senior Travel Writer. Like Zion she, too has been called distant and impersonal. You say that like it’s a bad thing.

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