Best Place to Watch Wildlife in the Urban Jungle

Hermann Park For a great wildlife expedition that'll fit into your lunch break, hop on the light rail and get off at Hermann Park. In addition to paddle boats and balloon vendors, the park's pond and woody trails provide a habitat for more than 30 species of birds -- and not just the typical urban squatters such as pigeons, sparrows and crows. You're almost guaranteed to see whimsical Texas natives like the black-bellied whistling duck, which nests on the park's island and routinely dazzles visitors with its swanlike neck and bright orange bill. Other popular park residents include spectacularly colorful wood ducks, the blue-billed green heron and the ahinga, or "snake bird," which paddles along completely underwater with its head sticking out like a submarine telescope. Binoculars and a bird guidebook help, but don't worry too much about supplies. You'll never be more than a couple of minutes away from a fruit smoothie or a burrito, even if, as the bird flies, you feel gloriously far from the city.

Houston Astros This one is as close as it gets to a no-brainer. The combination of Stevie Franchise whining to his coaches and Yao disappearing in April eliminates the Rockets. The Texans are still an expansion team, and the Aeros -- yeah, well, come on. When Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens announced they were coming home just one year after the addition of the stellar Jeff Kent, the hottest sports ticket in town became a seat at Minute Maid Park. All that and retaining the Killer B's? Take us out to the ballpark!

Houston Astros This one is as close as it gets to a no-brainer. The combination of Stevie Franchise whining to his coaches and Yao disappearing in April eliminates the Rockets. The Texans are still an expansion team, and the Aeros -- yeah, well, come on. When Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens announced they were coming home just one year after the addition of the stellar Jeff Kent, the hottest sports ticket in town became a seat at Minute Maid Park. All that and retaining the Killer B's? Take us out to the ballpark!

Drayton McLane Up until this year, grocery magnate Drayton McLane had been drawing the ire of loyal Astros fans for his discount shopping of free agents, near-worship of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio and refusal to increase the team's payroll. That changed, however, when the club lured Deer Park natives and future Hall of Famers Roger Clemens (one year for $5 million) and Andy Pettitte (three years for $31.5 million), and then topped it off with a trade for slugging outfielder Carlos Beltran. So while we'd had it up to here with McLane's annoying "What have you done today to be a champion?" line, even naysayers knew his acquisition of the trifecta screamed "Win now!" before he even scheduled the press conference. And to add to the fat wave of good PR McLane was riding, Major League Baseball's All-Star Game -- easily one of its most popular events -- was played in his very own ballpark. McLane was finally in the spotlight for doing it right, and provided he doesn't relegate the team to the two-for-one aisle again, he'll stay there.

Drayton McLane Up until this year, grocery magnate Drayton McLane had been drawing the ire of loyal Astros fans for his discount shopping of free agents, near-worship of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio and refusal to increase the team's payroll. That changed, however, when the club lured Deer Park natives and future Hall of Famers Roger Clemens (one year for $5 million) and Andy Pettitte (three years for $31.5 million), and then topped it off with a trade for slugging outfielder Carlos Beltran. So while we'd had it up to here with McLane's annoying "What have you done today to be a champion?" line, even naysayers knew his acquisition of the trifecta screamed "Win now!" before he even scheduled the press conference. And to add to the fat wave of good PR McLane was riding, Major League Baseball's All-Star Game -- easily one of its most popular events -- was played in his very own ballpark. McLane was finally in the spotlight for doing it right, and provided he doesn't relegate the team to the two-for-one aisle again, he'll stay there.

Houston Texans Never has a team been adopted so quickly and so ferociously as the expansion Houston Texans. The ever-disappointing Oilers and their Snidely Whiplash owner are a distant memory as Reliant Stadium rocks to its rivets for every home game. The Texans themselves do more than their share, rarely getting blown out at home and providing unforgettable thrills, like the franchise-opening win over the hated Cowboys that forever cemented the team in the city's heart. The stadium gets unbelievably loud on Sundays -- the Super Bowl was a sedate gathering compared to some Texans games -- and the knowledgeable and frothing fans make it the place to be at least eight times a year. What will happen when the Texans finally make the playoffs is anyone's guess, but we're betting engineers will have to stay alert to see the place doesn't shake off its foundation.

Houston Texans Never has a team been adopted so quickly and so ferociously as the expansion Houston Texans. The ever-disappointing Oilers and their Snidely Whiplash owner are a distant memory as Reliant Stadium rocks to its rivets for every home game. The Texans themselves do more than their share, rarely getting blown out at home and providing unforgettable thrills, like the franchise-opening win over the hated Cowboys that forever cemented the team in the city's heart. The stadium gets unbelievably loud on Sundays -- the Super Bowl was a sedate gathering compared to some Texans games -- and the knowledgeable and frothing fans make it the place to be at least eight times a year. What will happen when the Texans finally make the playoffs is anyone's guess, but we're betting engineers will have to stay alert to see the place doesn't shake off its foundation.

Memorial Park Texan Lance Armstrong won his sixth straight Tour de France this summer. It's an incredible story. So incredible, in fact, that each time he wins, America runs out to buy more bicycles. But in a city as densely populated with cars and unfriendly bike roads as ours, where are our future cycling champions to go? You guessed it: to the trails of Memorial Park. There's simply no better place to ride inside the Loop. It's scenic and shaded, and even new riders can maneuver the track maneuvered easily. Plus, there are joggers, speed walkers, Frisbee throwers and other health-minded cuties to check out. If you're looking for a little inspiration, a quick glance at the hot, hard bodies circling Memorial Park is all you'll need.

Memorial Park Texan Lance Armstrong won his sixth straight Tour de France this summer. It's an incredible story. So incredible, in fact, that each time he wins, America runs out to buy more bicycles. But in a city as densely populated with cars and unfriendly bike roads as ours, where are our future cycling champions to go? You guessed it: to the trails of Memorial Park. There's simply no better place to ride inside the Loop. It's scenic and shaded, and even new riders can maneuver the track maneuvered easily. Plus, there are joggers, speed walkers, Frisbee throwers and other health-minded cuties to check out. If you're looking for a little inspiration, a quick glance at the hot, hard bodies circling Memorial Park is all you'll need.

Mark Cullen Aeros center Mark Cullen has had his share of tough breaks: a broken neck while at Colorado College, a broken ankle in the 2003 playoff run and a badly separated shoulder that caused him to miss two months this past season. More serious was the diagnosis in September 2003 of skin cancer, which eventually spread to his lymph nodes. Through it all, Cullen has kept on -- a solid assist man on one of the team's top lines, and at 25 years old, one who still has a good shot making it to the NHL. And while he's currently cancer-free, his brush with the disease awakened a new aspect to the easygoing personality he's always had. Now he's the team's most enthusiastic visitor to kids in area hospitals, he's leading a Memorial Hermann campaign to raise awareness of skin-cancer dangers, and he was named the American Hockey League's Man of the Year in 2004. Aeros fans are waiting eagerly to see what he can do in a full season.

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