While Grand Canyon National Park is a bucket-list destination for many Americans, there are some people out there who just aren’t that impressed. “A hole. A very, very large hole,” wrote one visitor in a one-star review online. Illustrator Amber Share takes the most ridiculous one-star national park reviews and turns them into satirical art showing what these visitors are missing. She started the popular Instagram account @subparparks in December 2019 and in July 2021 published, Subpar Parks: America’s Most Extraordinary National Parks and Their Least Impressed Visitors.
In this beautiful book she shares brand new artwork alongside old favorites, anecdotes, tips from rangers and more. We caught up with Share to learn more about her work.
What inspired you to start @subparparks?
AS: I knew I wanted to draw all of the national parks as a personal illustration project, but I wanted to find an angle that hadn’t been done before. I stumbled upon a few one-star reviews someone had shared to Reddit, and the idea was pretty instant from there.
What are some of the funniest reviews you’ve encountered?
AS: For me it’s always the ones that are sort of, technically true, but it’s the most reductive way you could ever imagine someone describing a place. The Grand Canyon being a very large hole, Petrified Forest being a desert with some dead trees, Grand Teton being just a lake, mountains, and some trees.
I’m curious about your creative process. What goes through your mind as you take one of these ridiculous reviews to a full-fledged Subpar Parks illustration?
AS: My first step is always to decide if the review is referencing a specific spot I should show, or if there’s just a particularly funny way to juxtapose the park image with the review (like how I approached the review of Biscayne’s lack of cell service and placed it over a completely underwater scene!). I look through tons of images to find inspiration whether I decide to do my take on an iconic viewpoint like in Yosemite or a more general feel of the place like the layers of the Grand Canyon. It’s fun for me to see how much I can simplify a landscape and still have it be almost instantly recognizable as that specific park. Throughout the whole process I’m usually giggling to myself about the review as I write my caption in my head.
Rumor has it Grand Canyon is your favorite park. What do you like most about it?
AS: I love it because it’s one of those places that’s so much more than meets the eye at first. If you just walk up to the rim and take a look out, I feel like you’re only getting 10% of what the canyon really is. I like to say that many desert places are introverts. They require you to spend some time with them before they really reveal themselves, but boy is it worth it.
In 2021, you took an epic road trip to the Southwest, visiting tons of public lands along the way. Are there any areas you think readers should make a side trip to on their next Grand Canyon vacation?
AS: Definitely don’t skip out on the North Rim. It takes some effort to get there as it’s off the beaten path compared to the South Rim, but it’s well worth it for fewer crowds and very different elevation and vegetation. It also gets you near the Glen Canyon and Vermillion Cliffs areas for some wonderful side trips if you’re up for it.
I have to ask. Are there any parks you think deserve a one-star review?
AS: Not really. But if I had to pick one, it’s Gateway Arch. It’s a perfectly cool place and the arch is pretty incredible, but just not what I think of when I think of national parks.
What was the most interesting thing you learned writing and illustrating your new book, Subpar Parks?
AS: On some days, caribou outnumber people 32:1 in Kobuk Valley National Park in Alaska. It’s one of those facts that really helps you feel the absolute size and remoteness of some of these places.
After diving deep into so many parks, which one’s next on your bucket list?
AS: I definitely want to plan a trip to Alaska now. I always thought it wouldn’t be for me (I really struggle in cold climates), but I think I have to make it happen. I’d also love to plan a California road trip to visit a bunch of those parks.
You can purchase Subpar Parks : America’s Most Extraordinary National Parks and Their Least Impressed Visitors at AmberShareDesign.com