We've all had fun with Google's Street View feature; it's a great way to check out famous or obscure cities across the planet and virtually visit landmarks and natural wonders that might not be on our travel bucket list. Sure, there have been some blips along the way – a photo that needs to be redacted or stalker-ish behaviors from an ex – but for the most part, we're thrilled that Google traveled more than seven million miles to look at more than 65 countries across seven continents.
Early views were limited to the 360-degree images captured by those funny-looking cars with roof-mounted cameras, but have you ever wondered how we're able to see more and more of these off-the-beaten-path images lately? Enter Google Trekker, which allows us to view areas previously accessible only by foot by loading a hiker up with a 40-pound backpack equipped with GPS technology and cameras.
The brave personnel at the nonprofit Houston Parks Board participated in the Trekker Loan Program in late 2014 and early 2015, covering about 150 miles of Houston parkland and what eventually will be the Bayou Greenways network, to bring us some very cool images from 31 different sites in our region. [Upon completion, Bayou Greenways 2020 (led by the board) will create a continuous park system along our major waterways, connecting parks and people while helping to reduce flooding.] To view a full list of Houston trails, parks and greenways available on Google maps, visit houstonparksboard.org/google-trekker.
It's easy to get lost in the maps and realize that several hours have gone by, so we asked the folks at the Houston Parks Board to pick some of the best scenes from their journeys. They did us a solid and provided the actual coordinates. Take a look at these images and, if you like them, click on the hyperlinked photo credits and start your own rabbit hole journey.
Brays Bayou Greenway Trails offer some amazing views of Gus Wortham Park Golf Course and Brays Bayou. Recently completed, the trails are located in the Idylwood neighborhood and offer a quick connection to Mason Park.
There are almost 10,000 trees in Hermann Park, some approaching 100 years old, and it's one of the prettiest features of the Rice University / Medical Center / Museum District area. In this particular screenshot, notice the shadow of the Trekker's camera. Situated along the Brays Bayou Greenway, the park is operated by Hermann Park Conservancy and features trails, gardens, wetlands, plazas, fountains, an eight-acre lake and – one of our favorite places for free and fun things to do – Miller Outdoor Theatre.
The Terry Hershey Park Hike & Bike Trail is a Harris County park that runs east-west along the banks of Buffalo Bayou in west Houston. The coordinates for this screen shot place this very close to Dairy Ashford, though it's hard to believe with all the dense foliage. Follow these trails for ten miles to find restrooms, exercise stations, picnic areas and a playground. It stretches from the Barker Reservoir at Highway 6 all the way to West Sam Houston Parkway North, near Lakeside Country Club.
East of the University of Houston and the Lawndale area, Mason Park boasts 104 acres along Brays Bayou. Operated by the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, recreational and leisure opportunities include fields for baseball, softball and soccer, plus a playground and lighted tennis courts. There's also a swimming pool, indoor gym, weight room, a hike-and-bike trail and a nine-hole disc golf course.
But wait, there's more. At a press conference in Austin earlier this month, Google and tourism leaders announced that more than 80 locations and tourist attractions across Texas are being featured on Google Maps through Street View imagery. Joining the Houston Parks Board in this project are partners at the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau and Visit El Paso.
Sorry, North Houston, your secret is now out. Keith-Weiss Park features almost 500 acres (499.46, to be exact) of pine forests along Aldine-Westfield Road, and it's operated by the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. Check out the cute pier in this screen shot, then click on the hyperlinked image credit to start your journey.
Everything's bigger in Texas, and this Inner Loop park along Buffalo Bayou is almost twice as big as New York City's Central Park. Memorial Park Conservancy operates the 1,466-acre Memorial Park, with a three-mile loop for walking and running, trails for hiking and mountain biking, sports fields and some great tree-covered picnic spots. After 2011's drought, Memorial Park Conservancy, in conjunction with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, planted approximately 105,000 seedlings and trees to help rebuild the park's natural resources. Go ahead and click the hyperlinked photo credit. We're dropping you in near the entrance to Memorial Park Golf Course; the rest is up to you.
Near Tidwell Park northeast of downtown, Halls Bayou Greenway Trail offers a fast and easy way to escape Houston's traffic and congestion. A nice, leisurely walk (virtually or in person) instantly takes you out of the concrete jungle and back into nature.
These Street Views were all captured in late fall and early winter, and our green spaces look pretty much the same year round (except during flooding). This particular area of the White Oak Bayou Greenway Trail, however, bears an in-person visit during the spring, when bluebonnets and wildflowers are in full bloom. It's frequented by commuters, cyclists, runners and families with strollers, giving it the informal nickname of "the family freeway."
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We're digging all the great things happening over at Buffalo Bayou Partnership, including the Regatta, the Bayou Bash, the Waugh Bat Colony Boat Tour (which is booked months in advance) and the super-awesome and oh-so-spooky underground Cistern. But there's cool stuff on land and aboveground, too, with 160 acres of skyline views, artwork, play areas, hike-and-bike trails and performance art. Plus, all the hip doggies take their humans to Johnny Steele Dog Park. The just-west-of-downtown Buffalo Bayou Park stretches from Shepherd Drive to Sabine Street between Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive. Sand volleyball, anyone?
The Houston Parks and Recreation Department, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, the Memorial Park Conservancy, the Hermann Park Conservancy, Harris County Precinct One, Harris County Precinct Three and others helped to make this project possible by welcoming and allowing Google Trekker to photograph their green spaces.
The coordinates provided by the Houston Parks Board are just a jumping-off point, and we encourage you to find your own favorite spots. Google will point the way. Now it's time to turn off that computer or device, get outside, and take a hike.