The words “national park” seem to stimulate an almost Pavlovian response: Yellowstone. The geysers, canyons, and bears of Yellowstone National Park are so intertwined in our collective consciousness that even 1960s American cartoons used the park as a model: Jellystone Park was where Yogi Bear and Boo Boo were constantly out to thwart the rangers.
One source estimates that nearly one-third of the U.S. population has visited the park, and each year more than three million people roll through its gates.
There is something about Yellowstone National Park that calls people back again and again, something more than simply the chance to see the curiosities of the natural world. Generations of parents have brought their children to see the place that they recall from their own childhood visits.
Other cultures have the Ganges River, Rome, or Mecca as places with deep spiritual meaning. In America, our national parks have become places for similar renewal, and as the nation’s first national park, Yellowstone remains one of our most valued treasures.
So, into the park we come in our cars with our crying babies in the back—babies who suddenly quiet down at the sight of a bison or elk. I recall bringing relatives to Yellowstone after I had worked in the vicinity all summer and had become a bit jaded. Their emotional reaction surprised me, and more than a decade later they still tell stories of the bison calves, the astounding geysers, the rush of the waterfalls, and the night they spent at Old Faithful Inn .
Yellowstone is a collective religious experience that sends us back to our roots in the natural world. The smell of wood smoke from a campfire, the picnic lunch on the shore of Yellowstone Lake , the backcountry horseback ride , the South Rim Trail  hike down to the lip of Lower Falls, the quick strike of a trout on the line , the gasp of the crowd as the first spurt of Old Faithful  jets upward, the herds of bison wading Firehole River at Fountain Flat , the evening piano tunes drifting through the air at Lake Yellowstone Hotel , the howl of a distant wolf, and even the cheesy Yellowstone trinkets—all of these things combine to leave an indelible mark on visitors to Yellowstone National Park.