10 must-see natural phenomena around the world
From the tropical paradise of Cook Island to the rolling greenery of the Scottish Highlands, your travel bucket list is ever expanding. But we suggest you add a little wiggle room in your itinerary for some of these you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it sites. Pink lakes, sherbet-colored mountains and glowing beaches—this planet is an amazing place. But make plans to see these wonders soon, before they disappear.
Great Blue Hole (Belize, City Belize)
If you couldn’t tell by its name, the Great Blue Hole is a giant underwater hole in the middle of Lighthouse Reef, 73 miles off the coast of Belize. Technically, it’s a sinkhole that formed as far back as 153,000 years ago, before sea levels were as high as they are today. After some glaciers danced around and melted, oceans rose and filled in the hole. The near-perfect circle is 1,043 feet in diameter and 407 feet deep, giving it a dark navy hue. Not only is the Great Blue Hole a World Heritage Site of UNESCO, but it was also one of Jacques Cousteau’s top diving spots, so you know it’s legit. You’ve got to be an expert scuba diver to actually go down into the hole, but snorkeling on its edges is allowed (and frankly offers more colorful scenes of fish and coral due to the sunlight). But, if you want the best view? Hop on a helicopter for a visually stunning flyover tour.
Salar De Uyuni (Potosí, Bolivia)
In the mood for something savory? How about 4,086 square miles of salt? That’s how big Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, is. Located in southwest Bolivia, near the Andes Mountains, this bright white, flat expanse looks like a desert but is actually a lake. Let us explain: Roughly 30,000 years ago, this area of South America was covered in a giant saltwater lake. When it evaporated, it left behind a thick, salty crust on the earth’s surface. Today, the flat produces salt and half the world’s lithium. During the rainy season (December through April), smaller surrounding lakes overflow and cover Salar De Uyuni in a thin, still layer of water that reflects the sky almost perfectly for a sublime optical illusion. If your goal is seeing as much of the flat as possible, head out during the drier season (May through November). Tours are available from starting points in both Chile and Bolivia. Just be sure to hydrate.
Mud Volcanoes (Azerbaijan)
Nestled between Eastern Europe and Western Asia is the Republic of Azerbaijan, home to hundreds of volcanoes that regularly spew goopy, gray mud. These short volcanoes (10 feet tall or so) dot the desert landscape throughout Gobustan National Park (another UNESCO World Heritage site) near the Caspian Sea. Since eruptions are caused by gases escaping through the earth instead of magma, the mud tends to be cool or even cold to the touch. Don’t be afraid to join in if other visitors bathe in the mud, which has been used for skin and joint ailments and in pharmacology. Certainly not FDA-approved, but when in Azerbaijan, right?
Vaadhoo Island (Maldives)
After taking a dunk in Azerbaijan’s volcanic mud, we recommend bathing in glow-in-the-dark ocean water on the tiny tropical island Vaadhoo. Visitors can see the ocean shores light up at night due to tiny phytoplankton in the water. These bioluminescent buggers emit a bright light when the water around them hits oxygen (aka, waves hitting the beach) as a defense against predators. Lucky for us, this creates a naturally occurring liquid glitter we can swim in. Consistently ranked one of the top vacation spots in the world, the Maldives is also increasing in popularity because it’s sadly disappearing. About 100 of the 2,000 islands that make up the Maldives have eroded in recent years and water levels continue to chip away at many of them. Might be time to move this item up on your bucket list.
National Science Foundation/Peter Rejcek/Wikipedia
Blood Falls (Victoria Land, East Antarctica)
There are a bajillion beautiful waterfalls to see around the world before you die (or they dry up), but Blood Falls in east Antarctica is one of a kind for its blood-like, well, flow. Explorers discovered the red-hued river flowing off the Taylor Glacier in 1911, but it wasn’t until last year that we figured why exactly the water was red. Turns out, there’s iron in the water (from an underground lake) that oxidizes as it hits the air. It’s tricky to get to Antarctica, yes, but certainly worth the trip to see this five-story-tall phenomenon in person.
Lake Natron (Arusha, Tanzania)
If you’re dying to see naturally occurring red water but aren’t partial to Antarctica’s chill, Lake Natron in Tanzania is a hot option. Salty water, high alkalinity and shallow depths pretty much make Lake Natron a warm pool of brine only microorganisms could love—and love it they do. During photosynthesis, the lake’s microorganism population turns the water a bright reddish-orange. Since the lake is no fun for large African predators, the setting makes a perfect annual breeding ground for 2.5 million lesser flamingos, a species listed as “near threatened.” So get there quickly. And kiss a flamingo for us.
Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (Michoacán, Mexico)
This entry on our list isn’t so much about a particular location as it is about what happens there. Every fall, monarch butterflies begin a 2,500-mile migration from Canada to Mexico. Over 100 million butterflies travel together, turning the skies orange and black, down through the U.S., before settling in central Mexico. Once they’ve reached hot spots like the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, about 62 miles outside Mexico City, they nest, essentially taking over every square inch they can find. Pine trees literally sag with the weight of hundreds of butterflies latching onto branches. Visiting in January and February is best, when the populations are highest right before the butterflies head north in March. Fun fact: The monarchs that make it back to Canada in spring are the great-great-grandchildren of the butterflies that lived it up in Mexico over the winter. Unfortunately, the monarch population has dwindled significantly in the past 20 years, due in part to shrinking milkweed availability, the monarch’s favorite food.
Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes (South Korea)
For spelunking enthusiasts, Jeju Island is a must-see. Located 80 miles off the southern tip of South Korea, the 1,147-square-foot island is essentially one big dormant volcano with hundreds of tinier volcanoes around it. Most notably, however, is the Geomunoreum Lava Tube System below Jeju’s surface. An enormous system of 200 underground tunnels and caves formed by lava flows between 100,000 to 300,000 years ago provide ample space to pretend you’re Lara Croft. Did we mention many of these caves have multiple levels? And there’s a lake underground, too? With some of the longest—and largest—caves in the world, it’s no surprise this is another UNESCO World Heritage Site on our list.
Ma Mingfei/Getty Images
Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park (Gansu, China)
There’s really no other way to describe these mountains than as orange sherbet rocks. The Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park is mile after mile of brightly colored, striped hillside made of sandstone and mineral deposits. Formed over millions of years as tectonic plates shifted and pushed underlying rock to the earth’s surface, this—you guessed it—UNESCO World Heritage Site is a lesson in both geology and art. Similar rainbow-colored mountains can be found in Peru, but this range in China’s northern Gansu province is easier to hike and offers equally stunning views of red, orange, green and yellow stone. Visit between July and September for optimal sunshine and light.
Federico Fioravanti/Getty Images
Cascate del Mulino (Saturnia, Italy)
Volcanic activity heats water below the earth’s surface, creating either boiling geysers or calm, steamy, natural hot tubs. We’ll take option #2. While there are many places to experience the soothing properties of hot springs (Blue Lagoon, Iceland; Khir Ganga, India; Champagne Pool, New Zealand), and we highly recommend you get to at least one in your lifetime, the Cascate del Mulino springs in Saturnia, Italy, caught our attention. Formed naturally by a sulphurous waterfall carving its way through rock, this sprawling landscape of pools clocks in at 98° F and is constantly flowing. The water is said to have healing properties thanks to sulfur and plankton swirling around. The best part? Cascate del Mulino is free to swim in and open 24/7. If you’re in the mood for a more upscale Tuscan hot springs vacay, stay at the Terme di Saturnia, a spa and hotel situated closer to the hot springs’ source.
Our Marketing Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity team and Bridge, our Business Resource Group (BRG) for people with all abilities, partnered together to test and provide feedback on our award-winning seatback inflight entertainment (IFE) system.
Aptly named "Entertainment for all," our new seatback IFE system offers the an extensive suite of accessibility features, allowing for unassisted use by people of all visual, hearing, mobility and language abilities.
"It's nice to know that I can get on a plane and pick my favorite entertainment to enjoy, just like every customer," said Accessibility Senior Analyst and Developer and Bridge Chief of Staff Ray C., who is blind.
"As a deaf employee, the closed captioning availability on board our aircraft is something I value greatly," added Information Technology Analyst Greg O. "The new IFE further cements United's visibility within the deaf community and elsewhere. It makes me proud to be an employee."
Accessibility features of the new IFE include a text-to-speech option, explore by touch, customizable text size, screen magnification, color correction and inversion modes, and alternative navigation options for those unable to swipe or use a handset. For hearing-impaired and non-English-speaking passengers, customization options provide the ability for customers to be served content and receive inflight notifications based on their preferences and settings —with closed captions, with subtitles or in the language of their choice from the 15 languages supported. Our "Entertainment for all" system won the Crystal Cabin Award in 2019, and recently, the Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl Research and Development Award for Audio Description by the American Council of the Blind.
"This really showed the benefits of partnering with BRGs in helping us improve products and services for our customers and employees," said Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity Senior Manager Corinne S. "Even though we have been recognized with awards for our IFE accessibility features, we are not resting on our laurels but continuing to work towards improving the inflight entertainment experience for all of our customers to ensure entertainment is available for all."
If your travels have taken you through Chicago O'Hare International Airport anytime since October 2019, you may have had a friendly, caring and jovial exchange with Daniel Smrokowski. Daniel is one of four Service Ambassadors thanks to our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics. This inaugural ambassador program aims to provide Special Olympic athletes employment opportunities within our operation, affording them a unique and meaningful career.
Since 2018, our partnership with Special Olympics has become one of United's most cherished relationships, going beyond the events we take part in and volunteer with. While the plane pull competitions, polar plunges, duck derbies and Special Olympics World Games and other events around the world are a big part of our involvement, the heart of this partnership lies with the athletes and individuals supported by Special Olympics. To advocate for their inclusion in every setting is one of our biggest honors, and we take great pride in the role we play in the organization's inclusion revolution.
Aiding in the success of Special Olympics' mission to create continuing opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, throughout the two-year partnership, United has volunteered over 10,500 hours and donated over $1.2 million in travel to the organization. The impact of this partnership is felt at every level, both at Special Olympics and within our own ranks.
"The Inclusion Revolution campaign, led by our athletes, aims to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. United Airlines has joined in our fight for inclusion, empowering our athletes with the skills needed to succeed and opportunities to contribute their abilities as leaders," said Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver. "United Airlines believes that people with intellectual disabilities should be perceived as they really are: independent, world-class athletes, students, employees, neighbors, travelers, and leaders who contribute to make this world a better place."
Our Service Ambassador program is just one of the many ways Special Olympics has impacted not only our employees, but also our customers. "I see every day how our Service Ambassadors connect with our customers the moment they walk into the airport lobby," said Senior Customer Service Supervisor Steve Suchorabski. "They provide a warm, welcoming smile ad assist in any way they can. To see these young adults hold positions that a society once told them they couldn't is truly the most heartwarming part of my job," Steve continued.
"The opportunity to be a part of the United family means everything to me," Daniel said. "I feel so much pride showing up to work in a Special Olympics/United co-branded uniform, working among such a loving and supportive community. The relationship between these two organizations is truly helping to shape my future while letting me use my gifts of communicating and helping others. Hopefully, I can spend my entire career at United," Daniel added.
In honor of Special Olympics' Global Week of Inclusion in July, we're asking our employees, customers and partners to sign a pledge to #ChooseToInclude at jointherevolution.org/pledge.
And be sure to check out Daniel's podcast
The Special Chronicles.
In collaboration with food-logistics company Commodity Forwarders Inc. (CFI), United moved nearly 190,000 pounds of fresh produce to Guam for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program. This new program was created to provide critical support to consumers impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
A variety of fresh fruits were transported from Los Angeles (LAX) to Guam (GUM) on United's newly introduced, non-stop cargo-only flight – a route added to meet cargo demand during the COVID-19 crisis. The fresh food was repacked in 10-pound cases in Los Angeles, prepared for departure at CFI's LAX location, and flown to GUM by the United team. Through this beneficial partnership between United and CFI, the perishable goods were kept cool during every step of the process and distributed as part of the food bank program in Guam.
"Everyone on our team has worked relentlessly during the pandemic to get critical goods to where they are needed most. Establishing a comprehensive network of cargo-only flights have allowed us to keep the supply chain moving even while passenger flight capacity has been reduced," said Regional Senior Manager of Cargo Sales, Marco Vezjak. "Knowing that we are able to help during these difficult times – in this case the Guam community – is our biggest reward and greatest motivation to keep moving forward."
United is proud to play a role in maintaining the global food supply chain and helping people access the supplies they need. Since March 19, United has operated over 4,000 cargo-only flights, moving over 130 million pounds of cargo.
Together, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. United Together, we rise to meet that challenge.
Calling all AvGeeks and travelers! Here's a fun way to take your next video call….from a United Polaris® seat, the cockpit or cruising altitude. We're introducing United-themed backgrounds for use on Zoom and Microsoft Teams, video conferencing tools that many people are using to stay connected.
So for your next meeting or catch up with friends and family, download the app to either your computer or mobile device to get started. If you've already downloaded Zoom you can skip ahead to updating your background image (see instructions below).
To use on Zoom:
- Start here by downloading your favorite United image to your computer or mobile device. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
- Next go to your Zoom app (you'll need to download the app to access backgrounds) and click on the arrow to the right of your video camera icon in the bottom of the screen.
- From here select, "choose virtual background" to upload your uniquely United photo.
- Start by downloading your favorite United image to your computer. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
- If you're using a PC, copy the image you want to use into this folder:
- C:\[insert your device user name here]\AppData\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds\Uploads
- If you're using a Mac copy the images to this folder on your computer:
- /users/<username>/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Teams/Backgrounds/Uploads
- If you're using a PC, copy the image you want to use into this folder:
- Once you start a Teams meeting, click the "…" in the menu bar and select "Show background effects" and your image should be there
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20 UCSF Health workers, who voluntarily set aside their own lives to help save lives, are on their way to New York City.
We are humbled by your selfless sacrifice.
In celebration and appreciation of all first responders and essential workers. 👏🏻👏🏼👏🏽👏🏾👏🏿
This is the story of Jason and Shantel. You see, Jason and Shantel love each other very much. They also love traveling and they love the classic Adam Sandler film, The Wedding Singer.
It all began when Jason reached out to United's social media team, hoping for assistance with his upcoming plan to propose. Some phone calls and one borrowed guitar later, the stage was set for Jason. Put all that together, mix in some helpful United employees and, voila, you have a truly memorable marriage proposal. Congratulations to this fun-loving and happy couple, and here's to many more years of making beautiful music together.
A big thank you to Chicago-based flight attendants Donna W., Marie M., Karen J. and Mark K. for making this proposal come to life.