Karla Sanders

Memoir of America


Memoir of America


A memoir of my journey through 30 of America’s national parks 2016 / 2017. For little over a year I camped and hiked my way through parks and parking lots in some of the U.S.’s quietest and wildest places.

With this series I depict views of America not seen in mainstream media. Most national park art you see depicts the majestic vistas and species who inhabit these lands, but throughout my journey I became more and more critical of the parks and the way we interact with nature. This series will begin to reveal these criticisms, while not forgetting the wonder I felt immersed in the raw majesty of our natural world.

It began with Mammoth Cave National Park – the world’s longest cave system, but you’d never know it standing above in the unassuming woods of Kentucky. Stephen Bishop was one of the earliest and most famous cave explorers in the mid 1800s, bound by slavery, but free to roam into the depths of this cave. He created a map showing 16 km of passages, and today there are over 640 km of mapped passageways.

The cave is packed with stories; different ways humans have tried to benefit from the cave, it’s home to endangered bats, and to me it represents the mystery of nature. We still have so much to understand about the earth, and when you step into its darkness, you feel the weight of this mystery. It’s both frightening and humbling. I wish our politicians spent more alone time in caves and less in the spotlight, they may come out more enlightened.


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This piece honors the native Americans and animals who inhabited the area of Hot Springs National park for thousands of years before Europeans arrived in 1541. My story of the park is captured below, but first a quick note: the portraits I illustrated are based on three photos of people from the Quapaw (meaning “downstream”) and Caddo Nations; two of the main nations that inhabited the area of Hot Springs. I tried my best to illustrate in a respectful manner, with the aim of keeping their memory alive. Hot Springs is famous for the bathhouses which capture the ancient thermal waters of the land, and this is what most people see when they visit here. I decided to take a step back and portray the ones who came before. My poem below: