Sheldon Lake Environmental Center

It's almost too good to be true, and we might regret giving this away, but Sheldon Lake is honestly one of the best kept secrets in Houston. If it weren't for the sound of the nearby industry, you might think you'd stumbled onto some Precambrian swamp. The terrible lizards are still there (in the form of lake-dwelling alligators), but the reservoir is also home to a large rookery of migrating and nesting birds, making it a popular destination for kayakers. A boardwalk on the lake gives a decent view of the nesting trees on islands across the water, but you'll need your binoculars. The real treat is to head to the visitors' center on the east side of the lake. Once part of a fish hatchery, each pond is now its own separate, semi-wild ecosystem (the alligators like to nest here, too). Some are overrun with water lilies and lotuses with lily pads the size of large pizzas. In addition to the nature stuff, the park plaques also describe how the entire center was built with environmentally friendly details such as reclaimed wood and solar panels. It's a great spot for a picnic. Not to miss: the massive viewing platform that overlooks the lake, the industry of east Houston, downtown and more.

You might mistake him for Russell Brand in a lineup, and at 32 his prime years are probably behind him, but Luis Scola has been a solid all-around Rocket for five years. Rarely out with an injury, he's mastered the baseline jumper, gets some rebounds and plays defense about as well as anyone on the team does, which is to say not all-time great, but adequate. In many ways Scola has become the leader of the Rockets, and they could do much worse.

A wise man once said that in order to truly understand Houston, you must learn to see it as the Indians did. There is no better place in the area to get your Karankawa on than Armand Bayou. There you can see what this swampy, bayou-streaked, pond-dotted coastal prairie looked like when cannibal tribes roamed and Spaniards perished in the tall grass. The park is home to an astounding bounty of wildlife: all manner of snakes, shore and forest birds, frogs and toads, turtles, mammals and even gators. You can maximize your experience with a nighttime hayride, a daylight pontoon boat cruise, or even a guided canoe tour, to truly feel like you are seeing Houston with aboriginal eyes.

Geoff Cameron has emerged as a versatile and key player for the Dynamo, good enough to train with the U.S. Team gunning for the World Cup. He's a defender but has shown he can play other roles as well and contribute significantly. He makes a big impression off the field, too. The Massachusetts native has twice won Major League Soccer's monthly award for charity works, raising money for the Ronald McDonald House and to fight leukemia. He's a great addition to Houston sports, and we can only hope he remains a Dynamo for his career — although he might be setting his sights higher.

Donovan Park

Sited at the intersection of two of Houston's foremost bicycle routes (Heights Boulevard and the MKT Trail), Donovan Park is an ideal destination for two-wheeled family adventures. As a private park, this little gem is not affiliated with any cash-strapped City of Houston or Harris County entity, and so Donovan Park's amusements seem better-maintained than most. (The park is maintained by private citizens.) In addition to the usual contraptions (slide, swings, zipline), Donovan Park's castle-like warrens of tunnels and raised tree-house-like attractions offer pre-K tykes some of the best hide-and-seek terrain in town. What's more, parents can rest assured, as the park is adequately fenced. Bonus: There's also a little mound wherein our flatlander kids can enjoy that age-old Houstonian tradition: rolling down any incline they can find.

Yeah, yeah, we know: A late-season collapse meant no playoffs and a mediocre draft pick for the Rockets. So what else is new? The staggering finish made many fans forget that McHale got more out of his lineup than many expected for much of the season. And one of the ways he did it? Not taking whining or no-effort games from his players. He had no hesitation about giving such players time on the bench. That, of course, pissed off Kyle Lowry, who apparently was mad that Goran Dragic filled in ably when Lowry was out with injuries. But we're willing to take our chances watching McHale try to mold a team in his no-BS image.

It's easy to get turned off by a lot of modern yoga studios. There's either too many skinny, sexy, bendy people showing off, or there's the marketing aspect promising you enlightenment and righteousness with just three headstands a week. Big Yoga does neither, though the studio's motto is to "Live Big," meaning it's not all about you, y'know. Classes are held in a heated room with a wall of windows overlooking Buffalo Bayou Park, and no one, teachers or students, takes themselves too seriously. In a typical class, you'll be encouraged to laugh at yourself, sweat your ass off and sigh away the stress of tying your body into knots. On Saturday nights there's a Hot and Heavy class that concludes with adult beverages. On Sundays there's a pay-what-you-can donations class, the proceeds of which go to a different local charity each month.

It might be time to retire this award, because we don't see anyone coming along who's going to top this Astros pair. As has been the case all too frequently lately, listening to Astro games can sometimes seem more like a chore than a joy. But Brown and Deshaies manage to keep things lively — Brown the dry-witted master of play-by-play, and Deshaies the goofier color guy who peppers his oddball observations with some keen insight into what's going on, both on the field and in the players' heads. There's simply no one in the Houston market who's better than these guys, and the Astros should be grateful they've got 'em.

Battleship Texas

Despite the fact that it derives its name from a Native American word meaning "friends," Texas is a pugnacious state, one far more in line with its unofficial "Don't Mess With Texas" motto than any other. And there's nowhere better in the area to revel in that orneriness than at the San Jacinto Battleground, where you can not only see the place where Sam Houston routed Santa Anna's much larger army and changed the fate of North American history in 17 minutes, but also the world's last "Dreadnought" battleship. Commissioned 100 years ago this year, the USS Texas shelled the Nazis at Normandy during the D-Day landings and is one of only six remaining ships to have seen action in the Great War. If you want to board the great craft while it's still afloat, you'd better hurry: The Texas is slated to move to a new dry berth within five years. The history museum at the base of the San Jacinto monument is worth the trip alone, as is the satanically awesome view of the petrochemical refineries from the great cenotaph's top.

Terry Hershey Park

"The Anthills" at Terry Hershey Park are more than nine miles of single dirt track that feature lots of ups and downs, roller-coaster-style (how the trail got its name), with some portions skirting the banks of Buffalo Bayou. It's considered an intermediate trail, though some hills are bigger than others. Since it's a bit farther out, it's often less crowded than Memorial Park, plus there are paved trails nearby in case you get tired or want a change of scenery.

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