Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
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.
Brazos Bend State Park You'll want to visit this park on a sunny day in February, and not just because the weather's more palatable then. Winter's the best time to catch the park's main attraction: alligators. When the sun comes out, the gators rise to the top of the water -- or sometimes out of the water -- to warm up. On a good day, you'll see eyeballs popping out at you from every pond and bayou. You could even spot a 20-foot gator hanging out on the trail. And the alligators aren't the only attraction; there are birds (more than 270 varieties have been documented), wild pigs, wetlands for fishing, and miles of trails for walking, biking and hiking. It's just a 45-minute drive down Highway 288 to the wild country.
Wier Park Nothing sucks more than diving for that ace and getting your foot caught in some crevice or unevenly paved portion of the tennis court. You need a good, level playing field if you're gonna do your opponent like Andy Roddick, right? Well, you can't go wrong with Wier Park's two shaded, well-maintained courts. The courts are free, but you can reserve a spot for $2. Or, if you play a lot, you can buy a one-year pass ($120 for non-West U residents, $72 for residents). Afterward, gloat over your win at the quaint little park next door.
Memorial Park If you're going to spend your afternoon hitting dozens of little white balls over and over again, you might as well do it in a nice setting, right? As far as driving ranges go, the one at Memorial Park is so swank, you'll be feeling like Tiger Woods in no time. With 43 slots, there's plenty of room for you to claim a mat and show the rest of those divot-heads how it's really done. The range is open every day except Tuesday, from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (they stop selling balls at 7:30 p.m.). Two bucks will get you 30 balls, which you can whack into the range's scenic 250 yards. If you don't have a club, borrow one from the lost-and-found bin. And if you get hungry, there's a restaurant and concession stand right there. So get your caddy and your funny-looking pants and get swinging!
Jeff Van Gundy, Houston Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy must be getting a lot more sleep now that all-star baller Tracy McGrady has joined the Rockets. Gone are his signature darkened eyes, which made him look like he hadn't slept since Houston won its last title in '95. Also gone is his hair flap -- one of the greatest comb-overs in sports history. It would come undone during sideline rants at officials and the occasional New York Knicks or Miami Heat brawl. Naturally, we were a bit sad to see him trim it for his recent stint as a TV analyst. Still, we have to say cheers, Jeff. You no longer have 12 inches of hair wrapped over your scalp. Here's wishing you a happy return to your, er, roots.
Palace Lanes It was the great Walter Sobchak who said, "Smokey, this is not Nam. This is bowling. There are rules." At Palace Lanes, the only rule is this: Have fun. And with 44 lanes and cool-colored balls, it's impossible not to. You won't pay an arm and a leg for the privilege,, either: With special rates for kids and seniors, families can escape the summer heat and kill a few hours without breaking the bank. In between spares, you can refuel with a beer, burger, pizza or other munchies from the menu. The Palace also offers rent-a-lane specials and the requisite "midnight madness" deal ($40 for six players for two hours). Just stay away from the guy with "Jesus" embroidered on his pink bodysuit.
Houston Texans cheerleaders When it was announced that Houston would finally get another franchise in 2001, we were ready. We were ready for dominant defense to punish quarterbacks and intimidate opposing teams. We were ready to take it to the Dallas Cowboys. And we were ready for new cheerleaders. The arrival of the Houston Texans cheerleaders was so glorious we soon forgot the old Oilers' Derrick Dolls. Our ladies are downright graceful as they show off their midriffs and flash smiles brighter than Reliant's stadium lights. And not to be outdone by the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, they've even had their mini-scandals, with one of the members being kicked off the squad for fraternizing with a player. Thanks to these gals, we're always ready for some football.