Book Review: See America: A Celebration of Our National Parks & Treasured Sites

Book Review: See America: A Celebration of Our National Parks & Treasured Sites

When I find a great book deal, I am usually a happy camper. When one of the Kindle Daily Deals offered this Celebration of Our National Parks and Treasured Sites, I was immediately intrigued.

I am a huge fan of the artwork commissioned by the WPA during the Great Depression to entice Americans to visit our National Parks. I have many of these pieces either as posters or postcards from Ranger Doug's Enterprises.

The contemporary designs featured in this book are disappointing for a variety of reasons. Below I've featured the modern contributions on the left with the black outline. On the right is the artwork from the original WPA project.

How do these compare for you?

Grand Canyon.jpg

I get no sense of scope or beauty from the modern designs for The Grand Canyon. While I appreciate that the poster on the left tries to give a sense of how large the canyon is, the colors are completely washed out. Who would travel to see this site?

The original WPA poster not only gives me a sense of the depth and breadth of The Grand Canyon, it also helps me appreciate how treacherous it can be there. The land formations look scary. Like a person could fall and die. I want to go conquer that canyon!

Saguaro National Park.jpg

These newer designs for Saguaro National Park feel like they were submitted to a high school amateur art contest. There's nothing here that truly celebrates the Southwest or the variety of cacti that make Saguaro National Park unique.

On the right, I see at least five different types of cactus silhouetted against the sunsets that the desert Southwest is known for. And again, the original WPA work gives a sense of how large this park is. The park is actually divided by Tucson with the Rincon Mountain District on the east side and Tucson Mountain District on the west side.

While the colors and moonlight try to conjure a romantic notion of Joshua Tree National Park, this new edition just fades for me. That Joshua tree could be a palm tree. I can't really tell. Why would I want to visit this place?

The original artist gives a much better sense of scope, including the bit of text about how this park is located where two deserts meet. This piece of art makes me want to walk into that desert and see these crazy twisting trees.

Who called Fred Flintstone and asked him to contribute to the Creative Action Networks project? What is that? It's not the breathtaking Delicate Arch that I visited, unless park rangers are letting hikers bust out the Crayola Markers!

On the right, Double Arch looks massive thanks to the smaller people on horseback who give this work scale. That arch looks like something I want to behold with my own eyes!

On the left, there's a highway. Those guard rails look sturdy.

On the right, I see the potential journey that will wind through small tunnels, around wild flowers, and into the Shenandoah or Great Smoky Mountains. I can hear John Denver singing!

IMG_2599.jpg

As a child, I remember learning about the Continental Divide as we traveled through the Rocky Mountains. I experienced a taste of what Manifest Destiny may have felt like knowing that our nation was so large our rivers flowed to both coasts.

But let's dress up a moose and a chipmunk to celebrate some of our country's most breathtaking vistas.

Who threw up confetti on Mount Rushmore?

Seriously? This monument looks like a cartoon. How is it okay to depict one of the greatest civil rights leaders in the world as a cartoon?

To end this review I will share two of the new designs that I did appreciate. The muted tones used in the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument underscore the gravitas of her work and contribution.

The smoke borders on cartoonish, but the peaceful determination on her face gazing into the night sky as she contemplates the next leg of her journey works for me. I am intrigued enough that I want to visit this monument and learn more.

The minimalist approach to this piece for the Manzanar National Historic Site truly evokes the dark days spent in this Japanese Internment Camp. I'm reminded of how little these American citizens had when they were placed in these "relocation centers".

The red sun, a nod to the Japanese flag, may be rising or setting. I wonder how the victims of this atrocity would view the motion of the sun. I choose to interpret the sun's motion as rising as many of the victims did after their release from imprisonment.


While I love the concept of re-creating the WPA-style posters and art for a new generation of national park lovers, the pieces in this collection fall entirely too short for my tastes. Such a disappointment.

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