Three Perfect Days: Finger Lakes
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Finger Lakes

By The Hub team , April 09, 2014

Story by Rohan Kamicheril | Photography by Ben Rosenzweig | Hemispheres, April 2014

Seen from above, the Finger Lakes look like claw marks on the landscape. The 11 glacial trenches occupy a relatively narrow corridor of central upstate New York, yet they have a far wider significance. The Iroquois believed they were of divine provenance. Farmers and loggers flocked to the area for the fertile land around their shores. The lakes are central to the region's identity and its economy. Everything here leads back to water.

The forces that shaped the Finger Lakes also endowed the region with a fierce natural beauty. The surrounding hills are split into innumerable gorges, with hidden waterfalls, secret swimming holes and enough scenic outcrops to keep a landscape painter occupied for a lifetime. The lakes themselves, some of the deepest in the U.S., are enchanting—made more so, perhaps, by the lush vineyards that surround them.

And there are plenty of rewards away from the water's edge, too. In addition to top-notch wineries, orchards dot the countryside, whose meadows burst with cattails, goldenrod and chicory. In summertime farmers markets abound, reflecting a resurgent interest in the bounty of the region. You can't throw a peach pit without hitting a local cheese maker, bread maker or small-batch seed-oil producer.

The region is also home to Cornell University, Ithaca College and Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a fact that lends its towns a youthful energy and ensures that the area's cultural attractions are as varied and impressive as its landscapes. It is this variety that makes the Finger Lakes such a wonderful place to be. There's always a sense that you're discovering something new, even if that something has been two million years in the making.

DAY ONE | You wake up late, despite the sun pouring through your balcony doors at La Tourelle Resort, a restored farmhouse property surrounded by sprawling lawns and orchards on a hill overlooking Ithaca. From the cumulous depths of your bed, you have a clear view of the high, wooded walls of Buttermilk Falls State Park, where you'll be spending your morning. First, you head downstairs to The Bistro for a breakfast of oatmeal-crusted French toast and two devilishly decadent Danishes—fortification for the hike you have planned.

The deep gorge trails of Buttermilk Falls are a few minutes' walk away, along paths winding past cataracts and slender, idling pools. Fractured shale walls beetle overhead, thick with gangly opportunistic weeds. You reach a deep, clear pool at the base of Buttermilk Falls and take the plunge. Reclining in the bracingly chilly water, you squint at the fierce sun overhead, the water thundering in your ears.

Fly fishing with Mark MoskalFly fishing with Mark Moskal

After drying off in the sun, you walk over to Moosewood, the Ithaca restaurant famous for its local, vegetarian fare. In the airy blonde-wood dining room, you savor Asian rice salad and sun-gold squash soup and watch the boho regulars and Cornell academics chow down on their veggie burgers and '70s-style composed salads.

As a reward for your virtuous lunch, you order a brownie with a scoop of vanilla from the nearby Dennis' Homemade Ice Cream. Feeling a little hiked out, you take a short drive to Newman Overlook in the middle of the Cornell Plantations, the university's vast natural preserve, which houses an arboretum and a botanical garden. You enjoy the park from above, gazing out over the tufted treetop canopy while digging into your dessert.

Feeling jauntier now, you head back into town to visit the Johnson Museum of Art, home to one of the best university art collections in the U.S. You enter the hulking I.M. Pei building and head to the top floor, which has fine views of shimmering Cayuga Lake. From here, you work your way down through the sunny galleries, pausing before Giacometti's bronze “Walking Man II." “Look," says an old man to his wife, gesturing at the stooped, attenuated figure, “it's us earlier today!"

As the afternoon wears on, you head over to the Ithaca Beer Company, a popular brewery across the road from Buttermilk Falls State Park. You order a cold and bracingly bitter Excelsior! White Gold in the bustling tap room, then head outside to sit in a lawn chair and enjoy a more tranquil drinking experience. On surrounding lawns, fires burn in clay pits. Children run about, scrambling after the blinking fireflies. In a nearby field, head-high corn stalks rustle in the breeze.

The botanical gardens at Cornell PlantationsThe botanical gardens at Cornell Plantations

It's hard to drag yourself away from all this, but dinner awaits at Hazelnut Kitchen in nearby Trumansburg. With its handsome vintage detail, the restaurant feels like a gleaming hand-tooled diorama. You sit at a bar near the galley kitchen and get down to the business of ordering. Your peach and arugula salad is ripe and peppery. The house-made pan-fried gnocchi, with fresh corn and a trembling poached egg, are tender, crisp and sweet. You take a spoon to your crème brûlée and it cracks like a hammer on plate glass. You can't possibly eat more than two bites, you think, then polish it off handily.

It's still on the early side when you get back to Ithaca, so you stop by Lot 10, a bar known for its excellent mixed drinks and eclectic roster of musical acts. To start, you order a Negroni (Beefeater gin, Campari, vermouth), which the bartender executes perfectly. As you swallow the last of your drink, Matt Riis, the bar's garrulous owner, convinces you to try a Pickleback—one part Jameson, one part pickle juice. “Sweet & Sour Dill or Spicy Asian?" he asks, already pouring out shots. You wish your college town had had a place like this.

It's getting late, and you're feeling a little, um, pickled, but you decide on one more stop before heading back to the hotel. So it is that, a few minutes later, you find yourself back at the Johnson Museum, standing on a lawn and gazing up at a balcony, upon which you can see Leo Villareal's “Cosmos" installation, its constellation of lights careening across the ceiling of the Mallin Sculpture Court, splitting and regrouping, a sea of nautiloids and fractals blooming and fading into the night sky.

Mixing it up at Lot 10Mixing it up at Lot 10

DAY TWO | You wake up early and head to the open-air Ithaca Farmers Market, where you forage for breakfast among heaps of produce—nectarines like summer moons, garnet-colored beets, tangled mounds of peppers and beans. “Eat one, it won't kill you!" a farmer yells as you eyeball a bin of cherries. You pop two in your mouth and buy a pound to snack on. Next, you wolf down a num unsom ang, a sweet Cambodian rice cake, then a blueberry scone at the aptly named Fat Boy Bakery. Oh, and a quick hunk of poppy-seed cake from Veronika's Pastries. You were hungry.

Your next stop, a few miles up the west bank of Cayuga, is the sleek, angular Museum of the Earth, carved into a hillside above the lake. A 200-million-year-old Coelophysis dinosaur guards the entrance, beyond which, hanging from the ceiling, is the skeleton of a right whale. In one gallery you find a display recounting the glacial history of the area's imponderably deep lakes. In another, you encounter (no kidding) the official fossil of the state of New York: an immense sea scorpion, now thankfully extinct.

You leave the museum in a predatory mood, so you stop by Lively Run, a nearby goat cheese maker. The goats, listlessly chewing their hay in the barn, are too peaceable to pique your appetite, so you head into the tasting room, where you sample a briny Balkan-style feta and a creamy Cayuga blue before you continue on your way, primed for lunch.

Finger Lakes DistillingFinger Lakes Distilling

After a short drive west, the broad expanse of Seneca Lake comes into view. You stop at the Stonecat in Hector, a clapboard bistro overlooking the water, and claim a table under a shaggy willow tree. You dig into a pub plate of maple-juniper sausage, accompanied by a wild smear of peach-apricot chutney and a buttery wedge of Keeley's Across the Pond cheese, enjoying the dappled shade and gazing idly at the distant boats.

Your next stop is Watkins Glen, an idyllic hamlet at the lake's southern end, but first you duck into Finger Lakes Distilling in Burdett for a digestivo. Beyond the glass-walled tasting room you can see the Willy Wonka–style works, the gurgling vats and copper stills producing a clear trickle of high-proof spirits. You toss back a shot of the soon-to-be-released wheated bourbon, which disappears in a luxurious vapor. You buy a bottle and wish you had room for more.

You arrive in Watkins Glen and check into the Harbor Hotel, which sits astride the town's busy marina and looks out over Seneca Lake. The hotel's handsome fieldstone lobby is lined with Gilded Age photographs of the town. Your balcony has a wide view over the marina, where you spot your ride for the afternoon: the schooner True Love, rocking imperially in her slip. The boat's gleaming woodwork and clean lines seem unchanged from its star turn with Grace Kelly in High Society.

After a brief rest, you stroll down to the dock to meet Lawrence Hacker, the boat's captain. Lawrence looks the part—tan and tall and squinting against the sun. The rushing wind swells the sails, and the cobalt water parts in surging waves, sending a fine spray into the air. The boat scuds northward, passing rolling vineyards, stands of forest cover, rows of lakeside cabins. By the time you reach Hector Falls, the sun has begun to descend, and the towering face of the falls is bathed in golden light. Later, as the boat makes its way back to dock, its sails snapping in the wind, you think that you could get used to this.

The animal responsible for the goat cheese at Lively RunThe animal responsible for the goat cheese at Lively Run

There's time for a sundowner before dinner, so you head for the Tavern Room at Seneca Lodge, a nearby cluster of A-frames and cabins. The bar's timber walls are hung with deer heads. You put a coin in the nickelodeon and order a mug of the house pale ale. Jack, one of the owners, regales you with snippets of local lore, at one point producing a finger, which, the story goes, once belonged to a regular. He lost it in a workshop accident, Jack says, so he had it bronzed and gave it to the bar as a gift. After this, he moves on to his favorite topic: birdwatching. “Barn swallows, they're all barn swallows," one of the regulars shouts across the bar, to loud laughter. You'd love to hear more, but your growling stomach has other ideas.

The bistro at Red Newt Cellars in Hector is serving a number of its older vintages tonight. You start with a heady 2008 Curry Creek Gewürtztraminer and a board of pickles and cheeses and meats. Your strip steak is both beautifully charred and blushingly rare. The accompanying freekeh and smoked shiitakes are grown-next-door fresh. Dessert is a silken chocolate chèvre cheesecake and a glass of aromatic, port-style Hellbender. This seems like a fitting end to the day.

The moon is high and bright as you drive back to Watkins Glen. The landscape, so green by day, is black, puddled with silver. Back at your hotel, you leave the balcony door open and drift off to the sound of the wind murmuring across the lake.

A waterfall on the Cornell CampusA waterfall on the Cornell Campus

DAY THREE | You're up with the birds today—or with the worms, because the plan is to spend the morning beefing up your outdoorsy credentials with a fly-fishing lesson. First, you grab a cup of coffee from the lobby and sip it on the hotel's outdoor patio, watching the swaying masts in the marina.

Soon, you're standing on the bank of Catharine Creek with Mark Moskal, a guide from local outfit Summit to Stream, trying unsuccessfully to tie a lure to your line. “This is a brown woolly bugger," he says, tying up a feathery fly. “This will pretty much catch fish all year." You practice your casting, successfully hooking some staghorn sumac and a low elm. “It's not a day of fly-fishing unless you snag at least one tree," Mark offers gamely. By the end of the session, you're stripping the fly-line along the running water like a pro—albeit one who fails to catch a single fish.

Next, you have another macho activity lined up at the Watkins Glen International racetrack, a few miles outside the town center, which allows drivers to test their mettle on its banked oval. Instead of Firebirds and muscle trucks, you arrive to find an orderly line of VW buses at the start line, driven by a group of Volkswagen aficionados who've come to take a tour of the course. “The hippies have landed!" shouts a wiry woman holding a clipboard, and then you're off, whizzing around the track in your rental, occasionally glimpsing the tootling Technicolor vans shuddering around a bend. You watch them dawdle over the checkered line and head outside for a different kind of drive.

Meat and cheese platter at Dano'sMeat and cheese platter at Dano's

You've decided to take a short and scenic road trip up the west side of Seneca Lake to the college town of Geneva. You stop along the way at the Windmill Farm & Craft Market, named for the full-size windmill twirling outside. Having chickened out of buying a Davy Crockett hat, you stop at a stall overseen by an ornery moustachioed man in a leather vest, from whom you purchase a lucky rabbit's foot. As you pay for the foot, you consider saying “Not so lucky for the rabbit!" but the man's expression persuades you to keep quiet.

You stop for lunch at the Red Dove Tavern, a gastropub in downtown Geneva, where you belly up to the bar and a heap of crisp fried chickpeas. The PEI oysters are shockingly good—a cool, briny jolt to your taste buds. You compliment co-owner Rune Hilt on the oysters. “I love my fryer as much as the next guy," he says with a shrug, “but you've got to just let some things be." You agree, and order another half dozen.

Back at the southern tip of Seneca, you set out on a late-afternoon hike through Watkins Glen State Park. The forest trails lead you through a kind of fairy-tale landscape, over stone bridges and behind waterfalls, snaking upward beneath glowing leaves. On the way down, you walk a narrow ridge, the less traveled route that skirts the gorge, and come across Greenwood Cemetery. You wander the grassy cliffside grounds for a while, contemplating the weatherworn 19th-century gravestones and grand mausoleums. Then the shadows lengthen and you resume your descent into town.

Fairy-tale landscapes at Watkins Glen State ParkFairy-tale landscapes at Watkins Glen State Park

From here you head for Lodi, 20 miles north of Watkins Glen, on the east side of the lake, and take a porch table at Dano's, a Viennese-style restaurant. Soon, the chef-owner (Dano, naturally) ambles by to tell you he's made some cheese from a small batch of sheep's milk he just received. “They have such small teats," he says, lamenting the paucity of milk a sheep gives. “You're lucky if you get a quarter-cup a day." He disappears into the kitchen and comes back with a bowl of Slovakian bryndzové halušky, a creamy mound of cheese-slicked spaetzle topped with caramelized onions and bacon. He also delivers a plate of sausage, unbidden, along with the observation, “I don't smoke cigarettes, so I have to smoke meat instead."

You take a long draft from your mug of local wine and a forkful of spaetzle and look out at a nearby stand of quince and apricot trees, and the glimmering lake beyond. A few waiters and diners have come outside to watch the sun go down. Its last rays have brought the shore into blazing relief—every fold and plot of land is lit bright, every hidden crevice momentarily revealed.

The teat thing is now the primary piece of sheep-related trivia in New York City–based writer Rohan Kamicheril's arsenal.


This article was written by Rohan Kamicheril from Rhapsody Magazine and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

The day off: Washington D.C.

By The Hub team

Story by Ellen Carpenter | Hemispheres, December 2018

Politics, finance, tech, no matter: Deals happen in D.C. at every hour. But if you find yourself on a business trip with a rare free day, consider yourself lucky: The city has never been cooler.

9 a.m.

Wake up in your spacious room at the InterContinental Washington D.C. – The Wharf, with floor-to-ceiling views of sailboats gliding down the Washington Channel, and forget for a moment that the craziness of Capitol Hill is just five miles away. Snap a photo of the waterfall chandelier in the lobby before popping next door for a delicious egg and bacon biscuit sandwich at Dolcezza, the first outpost of the D.C. mini-chain to offer a full breakfast menu.

Photo by Mark DeLong

10 a.m.

Hop a cab to the National Portrait Gallery, where you can take a selfie with Barack Obama (well, Kehinde Wiley's depiction of the 44th president) before viewing an entire exhibit on the art of the selfie, Eye to I: Self-Portraits from 1900 to Today, which features works by James Amos Porter, Elaine de Kooning, and more. Afterward, muse on the concept of identity under the undulating glass ceiling in the gallery's stunning Kogod Courtyard.

Photo provided by the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution/gift of Dorothy Porter Wesley

1 p.m.

Take the Metro's Green Line up to U Street for a taste of Little Havana at Colada Shop. The small counter spot dispenses flaky empanadas, decadent Cubanos, and the café's namesake—four shots of espresso commingling with sweet Cuban crema. You know you want one.

3 p.m.

Time to hit the National Mall and work off that caffeine injection. Every winter, the fountain at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden becomes an ice rink, where you can take in Alexander Calder's Cheval Rouge and Louise Bourgeois's Spider while practicing your triple lutz.

Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

5 p.m.

Cab over to the Kennedy Center for the free 6 p.m. show at Millennium Stage, offered every single night as part of the cultural hub's Performing Arts for Everyone initiative. Whether it's modern dance, West African blues, or experimental theater, it'll broaden your horizons.

Photo by Teresa Wood

7:30 p.m.

Give in to your carb cravings at the Michelin-starred Tail Up Goat, a relaxed yet polished restaurant in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Toss back the complimentary shrub (tart!) and then dive into the red fife brioche (topped with chicken liver mousse, blueberry marmalade, and wood sorrel) and goat lasagna with tomato, anchovy, and salsa verde.

9:30 p.m.

Catch a ride to Blagden Alley—a historic area that used to house the stables and workshops behind stately row houses—for a cocktail at Columbia Room, a lounge that has topped every best-of list imaginable. Score a seat in the leather- and mahogany-lined Spirits Library and order a Maryland, made with rye, applejack, and chartreuse. Then get another.

Photo by Karlin Villondo Photography

3 under the radar places to visit in December

By Betsy Mikel

With the end of the year approaching, it's time to utilize those unused vacation days. If you're not traveling for the holidays, take an excursion to one of these under-the-radar destinations. Treat your family to fun in the sun in Florida, kick back on an island in Mexico that takes relaxation seriously, or take advantage of the slow season at a popular Arizona national park.

Isla Holbox, Mexico

For a leisurely vacation to relax on uncrowded beaches

Seeking a destination where you can unplug and sink your toes into the sand while surrounded by natural beauty? Isla Holbox is the spot. This laid-back island sits on the northwest tip of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. It boasts spectacular beaches with endless turquoise ocean views.

What to do

Pack your flip-flops and beach reads for a seriously laid-back trip to Isla Holbox. Come here to sit on the beach (or in a hammock) while you kick back and relax as you've never relaxed before. Enjoy spectacular beaches without crowds.

Isla Holbox is small — just 26 miles long and one mile wide, with only 2,000 full-time residents. Bright colors and painted murals throughout the area evoke a bohemian vibe. Instead of cars, most people get around by golf cart or bike. (In fact, its taxi cabs are actually golf carts.) Isla Holbox won't give you the lively nightlife of popular tourist destinations like nearby Cancun, but there are plenty of beachside bars serving cocktails, food vendors and restaurants serving fresh Mexican fare.

Go on a wildlife excursion to spot whale sharks, crocodiles or flamingos. Head to the Yum-Balam Nature Reserve to see other exotic animals.

Getting there

The closest airport is Cancun (CUN). From Cancun, head to Chiquila, where you can take the ferry to Isla Holbox.

St. Petersburg, Florida

A family-friendly beach destination for fun in the sun

With award-winning beaches offering 35 miles of sand along Tampa Bay, calm waters and plenty of sun, St. Petersburg is quickly gaining momentum as a warm-weather destination for families. Downtown is home to many shops, restaurants, bars and unique attractions, such as an impressive Salvador Dali museum.

What to do

St. Pete beaches are known for their calm, warm and shallow waters. Add 360 days of sunshine per year and an average temperature of 73 degrees, and it's surprising that this sunny beach city still flies under the radar. Keep it laid back by relaxing on the shore, or bump up the action by parasailing, windsurfing or kiteboarding.

After a day of R&R, head downtown to enjoy the lively St. Petersburg culture and nightlife. There are 35 local craft breweries to choose from and many seafood restaurants ranging from casual fare to upscale. The most extensive collection of Salvador Dali's artwork outside of Europe resides in The Dalí Museum. You can even meet a local celebrity at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium — Winter the dolphin starred in the Dolphin Tale movies and is famous for her prosthetic tail.

Getting there

United offers direct service to Tampa / St. Petersburg (TPA) from many U.S. cities.

Grand Canyon, Arizona

To have one of the most magnificent national parks (almost) to yourself

Though the weather is crisp and the temperature a few degrees chillier, the sun shines all month long at Grand Canyon National Park. Traveling here during the low season means fewer visitors will crowd your panoramic views of one of the world's largest canyons and most magnificent natural wonders.

What to do

From scenic drives to backcountry hiking, visiting in the winter makes for a more tranquil and peaceful adventure. The South Rim remains open all year round. The national park offers many trails to view the Colorado River snaking through snow-dusted temples and buttes. Try to catch at least one sunset or sunrise, and be sure to arrive with enough time to stake out a good vantage point. The visitors center and park website have recommendations for the best spots.

Ride the Grand Canyon Railway and travel back in time. A 64-mile stretch of railroad has been transporting passengers from the South Rim to the small town of Williams, Arizona, since 1901. The historic train has an observation dome car to catch the spectacular scenery and even has Wild West-themed entertainment aboard. Every evening in December, the Grand Canyon Railway transforms into the Polar Express and makes a stop at the North Pole where Santa boards the train to greet everyone.

Getting there

Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport is the closest major international airport to the South Rim. United offers service to Phoenix (PHX) from multiple U.S. cities.

For details and to book your trip, visit united.com or use the United app. Don't forget to share your story on social media with the #MyUnitedJourney hashtag once you arrive.

Evolving our brand design

By The Hub team , December 05, 2018

The United brand is heading in a new direction as we evolve the colors and patterns we use. Where did these new colors come from, exactly? Check out the video below to learn about the research, logic and thoughtfulness that went into this evolution as we took inspiration from the spaces around us, the environments we work in, our heritage, the United globe and much more.

Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Riviera Maya

By The Hub team

Story by Jordan Heller | Photography by Lindsay Lauckner Gundlock | Hemispheres, December 2018

There is some dispute as to how Playa del Carmen, the metropolitan heart of the Riviera Maya just 40 miles south of Cancún, got its name. Some say it's after Our Lady of Carmel, the title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as patroness of the Carmelites. But the more compelling story is the one told by locals.

Search flights

As legend has it, in the 1970s and '80s, when the area first became a destination, tourists traveling by boat from neighboring Cozumel would disembark in Playa—then known as Xaman-Ha—on their way to the ruins of Tulum. A local Maya woman named Carmen would happily invite these travelers into her modest home for a traditional meal of fresh-caught seafood. She may not have had any experience with immaculate conception, but when it comes to Playa, this Carmen is definitely a matron saint. Today, her spirit can be felt throughout the Riviera Maya, which also includes the village of Tulum, the ruins of Cobá, and a number of small Maya communities on the Caribbean side of the Yucatán Peninsula where, if you're lucky, a woman not unlike Carmen will happily invite you into her home for a meal.

Day 1

Exploring a Maya temple, befriending a butler and feasting on cochinita pibil

I eat grasshoppers for breakfast. No, this is not my way of saying I know how to handle a subordinate. I'm literally eating toasted grasshoppers sprinkled onto a dish of huevos rancheros with green tomatillo salsa, hoja santa, and goat cheese. I've just woken up at Playa del Carmen's Rosewood Mayakoba, which is perhaps the most luxurious resort I've ever stayed in (and I'm a travel writer). There's a private heated plunge pool outside my back door looking over a secluded lagoon, a spa Forbes rated one of the best in the world, and Tavo, my personal butler, who is at my beck and call through a Rosewood messaging app.

The sikil-p'aak tomato salad at La Ceiba Garden & Kitchen

A bottle of tequila and some toothpaste?

Certainly, Mr. Heller.

Despite all this luxury, I'm eating bugs—albeit with a Bloody Mary at a beachside restaurant overlooking the Caribbean. The toasted grasshoppers are crunchy (like perfectly burnt popcorn), incredibly delicious, and an appropriately indigenous start to a morning in which I'll be exploring the ruins of an ancient civilization.

After traveling inland to the village of Cobá, I trade my rental car for a “Maya taxi." It's the Yucatán version of a rickshaw—a padded bench fashioned atop the front wheel of a bicycle with a beach umbrella protecting me from the rain. My driver, Gustino, is transporting me through a mile of jungle and more than a millennium back in time, to the Late Classic (AD 550–830) Maya ruin of the Nohoch Mul Pyramid. The dirt path bustles with all manner of tourists riding Maya taxis, pedaling rented beach cruisers, or walking, excitedly talking about the sites of this ancient city in English, Spanish, German, Russian, and who knows what else.

As Gustino struggles to pedal through a particularly rough patch of mud, I ask him what nationality of tourist is the hardest to transport.

The Ixmoja pyramid at Cobá

“The Germans," he says. “It's not that they're overweight. They're just a very sturdy people. Americans are preferred: very easygoing and friendly people. Everybody wants an American fare."

When we arrive at Nohoch Mul, the panoply of tourists is suddenly speaking the same language: speechless. At 138 feet tall, the sheer scale of this temple is rivaled only by the gleaming hotels going up on the coast. But out here in the Cobá jungle, after I break the canopy and reach Nohoch Mul's summit, it's nothing but green as far as the eye can see, under which is apparently some 30 square miles of ancient city, most of it still obscured by the jungle. I'm told that just 5 percent of Cobá has been excavated since the project started in the 1970s.

"Today, if you come early in the morning, you find corn and beans here left by the local Maya, who continue to offer sacrifices to the gods."

“And what did they do with this little platform?" I ask Diego Viadero, my knowledgeable Tours by Locals guide, who's been schooling me on all manner of Maya history.

“Ah, yes," he says. “That's where the rulers would offer sacrifices to the gods, in hopes that they could avoid a collapse of the city."

“You mean like in the movie Apocalypto, where they chopped off the heads?" I ask.

“Just like in Apocalypto," says Viadero, doing his best to hold back an eye-roll. “Today, if you come early in the morning, you'll find corn and beans here left by the local Maya, who continue to offer sacrifices to the gods."

“Do you think it's enough?" I ask, making the comparison to the more (ahem) substantial offerings of yore. Let the eye-rolling commence.

The Rosewood Mayakoba's Sense Spa

Next, Viadero takes me to Nojoch Keej, which is Mayan for El Venado Grande, which is Spanish for “The Big Deer." It's a sanctuary for endangered animals run by a Maya man named Manuel Poot Dzib out of his back yard in the village of Nuevo Durango. Poot Dzib started the sanctuary in 2005, after Hurricane Wilma destroyed the habitats of many local animals. He now looks after bees (which produce honey that's said to have healing qualities), white-tail deer, paca, curassow, and ocellated turkeys, which he aims to repopulate in areas that are protected from hunters. From the looks of these turkeys, I think ocellated must be Mayan for peacock. They're vibrant, multicolored, and beautiful to look at.

"Tavo leaves me to my plunge pool, where I enjoy my cocktail to the sound of a rainbow-billed toucan flapping around the lagoon."

Poot Dzib asks us to stay for lunch, which is great, because I'm starving. “We're having cochinita pibiles muy delicioso," he adds, giving off some of that Carmen spirit.

I breathe a sigh of relief when I learn that cochinita pibil is not Spanish for ocellated turkey. It's achiote-marinated pork that's been cooking with banana leaf in a hole in the ground in Poot Dzib's front yard since 8 this morning.

“They normally only do this for the Day of the Dead or other special occasions," Viadero says as we watch Poot Dzib remove the dirt and corrugated metal covering his subterranean oven.

A home-cooked meal, Maya-style

“We used to cover it with banana leaf instead of metal, but that's a much harder and longer process," says Poot Dzib. “This is more modern."

Modern? I'm not so sure, but I grant Poot Dzib that it's certainly an update. In any event, when put on a handmade tortilla with pickled onions and habanero, this cochinita pibil is definitely mouthwatering.

I say “Taakulak k'iin" (“See ya later" in Mayan) to Poot Dzib and his ocellated turkeys and head back to the Rosewood, where Tavo the butler awaits with that bottle of tequila, plus some fresh lime juice and agave nectar for mixers.

Gracias, Tavo!

Certainly, Mr. Heller.

Tavo leaves me to my plunge pool, where I enjoy my drink to the sound of a rainbow-billed toucan flapping around the lagoon. Just one cocktail, however, as I'm hopping onto my complimentary beach cruiser (every guest gets one) to take a spin around the property, where geckos, iguanas, and even a tarantula skitter into the mangroves as I come rolling down the jungle path.

Appetite sufficiently worked up, I'm off to the Rosewood's La Ceiba Garden & Kitchen, where executive chef Juan Pablo Loza serves a communal dinner of Maya-inspired dishes with a contemporary touch. Seated at a long wooden table with 17 other guests, I ask the chef what he's learned from the local Maya villages, which he visits often to pick up cooking techniques.

“My top lesson from the Maya is less about food than it is about perspective," he says, before recounting a delicious meal he had with one family. “The woman who cooked for me had referred to her neighbor as poor. I found it an odd comment, because the assumption in a Maya village is that nobody is exactly rich. 'Why do you say your neighbor is poor?' I asked. She said because she has no family and no garden. If you don't have a garden, you can't get food from it, and if you don't have a family you have nobody to share it with. For them, having a family and a connection to nature is what it means to be rich."

“And now you have this beautiful garden," I say, pointing to his planters of lemongrass.

“And a family, too," he replies. “Including a daughter named Maya."

And then we feast. There's grilled octopus with black recado and burnt lime vinaigrette, zarandeado-style lobster, roasted plantains, and a k'úum salad of squash, arugula, orange, oregano, and ocosingo cheese, finished off with fresh fruits in guava honey and lemongrass.

Tavo, I'm stuffed! Turn out the light and have a pot of coffee waiting for me in the morning, please.

Certainly, Mr. Heller.

Day 2

Scaling ruins, swimming in cenotes, and taking a turn on the karaoke mic

Gran Cenote

In the small village square outside Tulum National Park, the Voladores de Papantla are performing their ancient fertility ritual, or rain ceremony—named an “intangible cultural heritage" by UNESCO. Five men in traditional bright red pants and flowing white blouses with multicolored adornments sit atop a 90-foot pole. The man in the center taps an adagio beat on a simple drum and blows a gentle bird-like tune on a wooden flute while the other four men tie ropes around their waists. When the musician ups the tempo to allegretto, the other two men fall backward, like scuba divers dropping into water, and slowly descend upside down in a merry-go-round fashion, the spinning top ceding rope like a reel feeding line to a fish. It's absolutely beautiful.

On a path cutting through the mangroves and almond trees on the way to the park entrance, a guide shares a mnemonic device that will be helpful should I run into any venomous coral snakes: “red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, friend of Jack." I assume I'm a Jack.

"The water is high and crisp as we float past stalagmites growing ever so slowly out of the cave floor."

Thankfully, there are no snakes to be seen in the ancient Maya city of Tulum, an open patch of manicured lawns and stone ruins protected by walls to the north, west, and south, and an ocean reef to the east. Or so it was protected until around 1500, when the Spanish came ashore. This beachside community, established circa 1200, was populated by a few hundred of Tulum's elite (and the sea turtles that still come ashore to lay their eggs), with thousands of people living outside the walls. It wasn't until the 20th century, when archaeologists began studying the region's various Maya sites, that we began to understand how advanced their civilization was—especially in the area of astronomy. As I walk the city's white gravel paths, I can imagine a well-heeled society covered in jade and obsidian jewelry enjoying the same ocean breeze and studying the same night sky. One glance at the view, and it's clear the Maya knew something about real estate. This plot right here, with a lighthouse perched on the cliff, would go for a boatload of jade and obsidian.

Maya ruins at Tulum

After fortifying my stomach with a few al pastor tacos (don't forget the guacamole) at Tropi Tacos in Tulum Pueblo, I meet back up with Diego Viadero for a drive out to Sistema Sac Actun (White Cave System), one of the world's largest underground cave systems, a 164-mile maze of freshwater flowing through subterranean limestone. This afternoon, we're exploring just one mile of the system. The rain-conjuring Voladores de Papantla must be in top form lately; the water is high and crisp as we float past stalagmites growing ever so slowly (less than 10 centimeters every 1,000 years) out of the cave floor and reaching up toward stalactites hanging like icicles from the cave ceiling. It's like the setting of a science fiction movie, so otherworldly I try to prolong my stay by floating as slowly as the calcium deposits are forming in front of me.

“Be careful," says Viadero, as I get a little too close to a stalagmite that's been a million years in the making. “You wouldn't want to break it."

IK Lab

“I certainly wouldn't want that on my conscience," I agree.

After emerging from a cenote (a natural sinkhole where groundwater is exposed to the sky), I offer an adiós to Viadero and make my way to Tulum's Route 15—the narrow street that cuts through the jungle, parallel to the shore, and is lined with trendy restaurants, bars, and “eco-chic" (their word, not mine) hotels. Twenty years ago, this strip wasn't much, but now there's not a speck of beachfront that isn't occupied by an Instagram-ready boutique property. (The number of rope swings is astounding.) In recent years, Route 15 has played host to Demi Moore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Gina Rodriguez, Reese Witherspoon, and, after today, me. I'm staying at Sanará, a stylish wellness hotel that attracts young and hip sunworshippers from around the world who like partying and yoga in equal measure.

A shop on Tulum's Route 15

I check into my beachside room (furnished with my very own yoga mat and dream catcher), flop down on the bed, and open up the “Wellness Menu." On offer are a Pudzyah Mayan Healing that “transforms pain to love at the cellular level … It harmonizes your DNA by applying fractal geometry energy"; a Multivibrational Massage and Chakra Balancing; and a Solar Plexus Healer. I opt for the complimentary “Sound Bath" of light yoga and didgeridoo before balancing out my chakras with a burger, a beer, and some fresh ceviche at Clan Destino.

This laid-back spot is all about the ambience: a wooden deck with chandeliers hanging from the jungle canopy and a cenote smack dab in the middle of the club, should you need refreshing after one too many cervezas. The bar offers a free shot of mezcal for those who take a turn on the karaoke mic (“Suspicious Minds" for me, thank you very much); after accepting my applause and draining my shot, I turn the glass over on the bar and take the plunge.

Day 3

Floating down a canal, swimming in the Caribbean, and eating gelato on the beach

A cabana at Mía

At The Real Coconut, Sanará's beachside restaurant, I dig into a light breakfast of coffee and avocado toast (piled high like Nohoch Mul with a squirt of lime and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes). It's a deliciously healthy start to a morning that's going to include traipsing through the Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve and swimming in Laguna Chunyaxché.

At Sian Ka'an—a protected area of tropical forest, marshes, and lagoons about a 40-minute drive from my hotel—I follow my guide, Joaquin Balam of Community Tours, down the narrow boardwalk of Sendero Muyil, which cuts through a forest of zapote and ficus trees. I'm told there are jaguars, pumas, and howler monkeys about, as well as some 330 species of birds.

“Are those the howler monkeys?" I ask of a muted rumbling in the distance.

"We're floating in the current like a couple of astronauts in space, limbs slowly twirling."

“Oh no," says Balam. “When you hear them, you'll know it."

The closest we get to this array of wildlife, however, is some jaguar claw marks on a ficus tree. By the looks of the marks, I'm happy that we're strolling alone.

Baby back ribs at Mía Restaurant & Beach Club

At the end of the path, we reach the sandy shoreline of Laguna Chunyaxché, a bright body of water that reflects both the green wetlands and the blue sky above. We cross the lagoon by boat, to a shoreline of mangroves and seagrass, and step onto a dock at the entrance to a canal.

“Take your life vest off and wear it like this," Balam says, putting his legs through the arm holes of the vest, as if it were a diaper.

“If you say so."

Balam jumps into the canal and I follow, and I immediately understand the Baby Huey getup. We're floating in the current like a couple of astronauts in space, limbs slowly twirling as our seemingly weightless bodies travel down the canal. Cue the opening horns of the score to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Back on Route 15, I stop in at Mía Restaurant & Beach Club for baby back ribs rubbed with chili and tamarind, washed down with a glass of Château Gloria St Julien Bordeaux from the restaurant's wine cave—the biggest collection of fine wines in Tulum. It's as decadent as the beachgoers lazing in the sun not far from my table.

Head still swimming in that lovely Château Gloria, I decide to take the rest of my body for a little dip. The Caribbean is bathwater warm and crystal clear—in other words, perfect. I walk out for what seems like half a mile, and the water still only comes up to my waist.

Gelato at Origami

Refreshed and sun-dried, I'm ready to trade in the historical and ecological sights of the last few days for the fashion runway of Route 15. The women wear bikinis and sarongs, the men wear linen shorts and loafers, and everybody wears designer shades, brimmed hats made of straw, and suntans of golden bronze. Origami, a beautifully designed gelato shop, is the perfect place to have a seat and watch the catwalk. I have a Ferrero Rocher and crunch on the hazelnuts drenched in icy chocolate and cream while the fashion models play street chicken with Vespas and the delivery trucks distributing tanks of fresh water to the five-star eateries

If Route 15 is for the well-heeled, then Calle Centauro Sur is for the flip-flop set. It's a strip in the center of town, about two miles inland from the beach, where the more casual tourists and locals congregate. Call it the Brooklyn to Route 15's Manhattan. At Batey—a hip, open-air bar and music venue decorated with paintings of Miles Davis and the Beatles—I take a sidewalk seat and listen to a Mexican Elvis impersonator singing Simple Minds' “Don't You (Forget About Me)." As I sip on a Don Julio Reposado, a patchouli-scented parade of 5 o'clock shadows and hot pink hair dye ambles by.

“Are you going dancing tonight?" a young man in a tank top, cut-off jean shorts, and tattered Chuck Taylors asks a friend sitting at the table next to me.

The bar at Mur Mur, in Tulum

“Are you?"

“I'm dressed and ready to go."

Back on Route 15, the revelers are stepping out as if their outfits are going to be scrutinized by bouncers holding clipboards and manning red velvet ropes. Thankfully, no such velvet ropes exist as I enter Rosa Negra for an indulgent meal of burrata, besugo sashimi with black salt and citrus, soft-shell crab tacos, and Pescadores—a fine craft beer made right here in Riviera Maya.

The food is as comely as the patrons, who are bopping their well-coiffed heads to a drum-and-bass DJ. But before I have a chance to pass judgment on an ambience that may appear a touch too buttoned-up, a live conga player steps in front of the DJ.

A rat-a-tat tat, bop ba-da ba-bop, dup du-duh dup du-dup!

The congas add a touch of that Carmen spirit—their organic vibrations reminding me that despite all the Manolo Blahniks and slinky black dresses, my T-shirt and flip-flops are welcome at the party. I shimmy my shoulders, take a swig of my Pescadores, and nod to the beat as I dig into my tacos.

A rat-a-tat tat, ba dop ba-da ba-dop, dup du-buh dup bu-dup!

Search flights

For Oscar, United's turnaround is a journey

By The Hub team , November 30, 2018

Our CEO, Oscar Munoz, sat down with Texas Inc. to discuss our turnaround strategy, stating it's a journey. Read the full interview here featured on the Houston Chronicle.

Ankit Gupta honored with Crain's 40 under 40 recognition

By Matt Adams , November 29, 2018

Network Planning and Scheduling VP Ankit Gupta can talk airline business for hours without losing steam. Just don't ask him to talk about himself; that's when he clams up. You'd think after being named to this year's prestigious Crain's Chicago Business "40 Under 40" list he'd be a little more inclined to wax poetic about his life and career, but no such luck.

Read more about why editors selected Ankit by visiting the Crain's website here. The full list of this year's honorees can be found here. The 40 Under 40 issue hits newsstands on December 3.

Security and technology in the air

By United Airlines

Podcast produced in partnership with CSIS

This week on the Smart Women, Smart Power Podcast, Beverly Kirk is joined by Linda Jojo, Executive Vice President for Technology and Chief Digital Officer at United Airlines for a conversation on the transformation of technology in the airline industry and more on security in the digital age.

The best National Parks to visit all year round

By Bob Cooper

National parks can be a refuge from the noise and hectic pace of everyday urban and suburban life — America's special places in nature. But during the summer peak season, they can be as busy as cities. Smart travelers visit between November and March when most parks are less crowded and accommodation choices are discounted. These national parks are especially worthwhile to visit and they're all close enough to major airports to make a three-day weekend getaway possible.

Yosemite, California

Fall and winter visitors to Yosemite National Park are treated to autumn leaves in the fall, snow-capped granite landmarks in the winter and replenished waterfalls in the spring. Tent camping can be cold, but hotel rooms in and around Yosemite Valley are widely available and Yosemite's historic lodge, The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly Ahwahnee), hosts two big events in November and December: the Grand Grape Celebration and the Bracebridge Dinner (a recreation of Christmas in Olde England). Airport: Fresno Yosemite International Airport.

Everglades, Florida

Many summer vacationers are among the one million annual visitors to Everglades National Park, but the best time to come is in late-autumn or winter. Southern Florida's temperatures are milder, it's far less humid, hurricane season is over and summer flooding of the prairies has receded — letting you see more fish and reptiles. You can also see more birds in the winter via airboat tours through the Everglades, America's largest tropical wilderness. Not to mention this “river of grass" is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve and a wetland of International Importance. Airport: Miami International Airport.

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Another world lives beneath Kentucky in the world's largest network of caves known as Mammoth Cave National Park. You will walk beneath massive crystallized formations inside the caverns and may spot one of the eight species of bats that thrive in this environment. The caves are about 54 degrees inside year-round, as if regulated by a thermostat, so they are protected from the hot humid summers and freezing winter nights above them, making them a perfect place to visit any time of the year. Visitors to this southern Kentucky park will also benefit from this climatic predictability while taking any of eight cave tours. While cave tours should be at the top of your list of things to do here, this park also offers hiking, camping, horseback riding, kayaking and more. Airport: Louisville International Airport.

Haleakala, Hawaii

Your visit to Haleakala National Park may include a number of experiences, but witnessing the sunrise or sunsets are a must. Many visitors wake up early to drive to the Summit Visitor Center to view one of the best sunrises. But make sure to plan accordingly because the National Park Service now requires a reservation for vehicles to view the sunrise from the Summit District. Other activities on the 10,023-foot mountain include hiking one of the nine trails, guided horseback rides and bike rentals post-hike to coast most of the way down. An added bonus: Humpback whale watching season stretches from December to March in Maui. Airport: Kahului Airport.

Saguaro, Arizona

Saguaro, a type of giant cacti, serve many functions for desert wildlife — but they don't cast much shade. That's why winter is the best time to hike among them where they populate hillsides by the thousands in Saguaro National Park. The park is split in two, straddling the western and eastern boundaries of Tucson, with 165 miles of hiking trails. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a museum, zoo and botanical garden, is a must-see attraction on the edge of Saguaro NP West. Airport: Tucson International Airport.

Joshua Tree, California

The namesake of Joshua Tree National Park is an odd-looking tree that fits in well with the weirdly wonderful rock formations adored by photographers in this high desert park. Located between Palm Springs and the L.A. area, the park encompasses two major deserts and a mountain range, offering a profoundly contrasting appearance due to the two varying ecosystems. This park can be explored by car or by foot on one of the 27 hiking trails. A bonus to visiting in the winter is the desert wildflower blooms between February and April. Airport: Palm Springs International Airport.

Biscayne, Florida

Famous lighthouse at Key Biscayne, Miami

Most of Biscayne National Park is on water, not land, so the best way to see its coral reefs (among the world's largest) and the abundance of marine life (highlighted by manatees and sea turtles) is by renting a boat or taking a boat tour. Several marinas are found at the park's edges where you can do just that, as well as rent snorkeling or diving equipment for a closer look underwater, where you'll discover diverse and colorful aquatic life and multiple shipwrecks. Kayaking and fishing in Miami-Dade County are also popular. Airport: Miami International Airport.

If you go

United Airlines flies to airports within a two-hour drive of all of these national parks. MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your accommodations. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your national park getaway.

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