Subpar Parks

In a democracy everyone has a right to be represented, including the jerks.” – British politician Chris Patten

In our country and in my opinion, there is nothing more democratic than our National Parks and Monuments. These are places that are set aside of, for, and by the people for their enduring enjoyment and recreation.

But I guess there has got to be a jerk in every crowd and one of the worst things about our modern internet age is that these jerks are empowered to spread their negativity on a global basis. As an example, you can look up any natural wonder in America and readily find peoples’ reviews and ratings about what an awful place it is.

That’s where author Amber Share comes in. When she first noticed that people were leaving negative internet reviews of places as amazing as the Grand Canyon she began collecting these negative reviews and now she has published a beautiful and funny coffee table book pointing out how inane the negativity is.

In “Subpar Parks,” Share has created one or more beautiful retro-style travel posters for each National Park and has captioned each of them with a quote from a negative internet review. The juxtaposition of the nostalgic artwork with the one-star review verbiage really points out how silly the negativity is.

In our recent trip to Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, Elise, Cady, and I got to visit half a dozen National Parks and they were all simply amazing. Each of us had our favorite places and some places that moved us to lesser degrees but all of the National Parks that we visited were breathtaking and educational and there are simply not enough superlatives in our language to describe any of them adequately.

Craters Of the Moon near Arco Idaho is a vast (bigger than Rhode Island) tract of volcanic craters, boulders, lava flows, cinder cones, pumice dunes, and lava tubes. It is populated by foxes, deer, reptiles, and birds as well as hardy conifers, mistletoe, and dwarf buckwheat. One underwhelmed reviewer in Share’s book wrote simply, “Not what I thought.” and left it at that. I guess they thought they were really going to see moon rocks rather than earthly volcanism that simply resembles a moonscape.

Our favorite park by far was Glacier National Park in northernmost Montana. Contiguous with Waterton National Park in Canada, both parks are administered jointly by Rangers from both countries. On our side of the border, Glacier is bracketed by MacDonald and Saint Mary’s Lakes and features the Going To The Sun Road which winds its way through Logan Pass at 6646 feet elevation on the Continental Divide. Glacier National Park is, as the name suggests, one of the only locations in the U.S. That you can see year-round glaciers (at least for now until they’re gone). So, what did the internet reviewers have to say about this subpar park? “Too cold for me,” and “Nothing to see.”

Grand Teton National Park is home to a majestic mountain range immediately south of Yellowstone National Park. The mountains are so geologically recent that they have not had time to erode much so the peaks are very jagged. One of the most startling things about the Tetons is that there are no foothills – they jut straight up like a wall from plains to clouds. In the Spring and Summer snow runoff feeds cold, crystal clear lakes at the base of the mountains like ever-popular Jenny Lake. Share quotes a Negative Nancy who writes about the Tetons, “All I saw was a lake, mountains, and some trees.”

Yellowstone National Park was our country’s very first National Park. Established in 1872 right in the corner between Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, the park is home to hundreds of geysers, hot springs, and vents, including the famous Old Faithful geyser that erupts like clockwork every 90 minutes or so and the Grand Prismatic Spring where bacteria in a large thermal pool have turned the stone all the colors of the rainbow progressing in concentric rings from red through orange, yellow, and green, to blue and even deeper hues. Yellowstone is also a habitat for elk, bison, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, and bears. The reviews that author Share found ran the gamut from, “Save yourself some money and boil some water at home,” to simply, “I’ve seen better.”

As Yellowstone was America’s first National Park, Devils Tower (A.K.A. Bear Lodge) was our country’s first National Monument. Established in 1906 and featured in Spielberg’s iconic Close Encounters of the Third Kind film, Devils Tower is a huge monolithic extrusion that was apparently formed some time in the distant past when a giant tectonic hand squeezed a tube of stony toothpaste upward through the ground. Now Devils Tower rises more than 1200 feet above the nearby Belle Fourche River. It is so unusual and unexpected a formation that your eyes are drawn to it over and over again as you walk around it. Over time the monolith has developed countless vertical fractures and fissures and looks like it is ready to fall to pieces but Rangers tell me that in all of recorded history no one has ever seen a column fall off of it. One reviewer was so unimpressed as to call it, “Just a big rock.”

The last of the National parks that we visited this year was Badlands National Park in western South Dakota. The Badlands are a quarter-of-a-million acre wilderness of some of the most steeply eroded landscape imaginable. Like Devils Tower, the Badlands are so otherworldly that it led Theodore Roosevelt to describe them as, “…so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth.” In addition to being a hiker’s dream come true, the Badlands are a paleontologist’s paradise with some of the richest fossil beds in the world. Unfortunately at least one person felt that, “The only thing bad about these lands is the entire experience.”

If you love the outdoors, nature, wildlife, hiking, camping, or stargazing, it is impossible to beat the U.S. National Parks, and if you love our National Parks like we do then you’ll find Amber Share’s 2021 book, Subpar Parks, to be a funny and snarky glimpse at the parks and the most vocal people that don’t love them as much as you do. You should be able to get it for about $20 anywhere you get books but if you buy it from a National Parks bookstore then 100% of the profits go toward maintaining these national wonderlands for future generations to love or to hate.

Categories: Nature, Travel

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