There is a way to escape the hubbub and eight-lane highways of Houston. Go east, dear family, go southeast to the bays and bayous of Texas.
South and east of the metropolis of 2.5 million people of the Houston area is a separate world of water and prairie, bird, fish, and alligator, wild plants, flowering trees, and wooden rockers on a shaded porch. The natural world of Armand Bayou Nature Center is just a few miles from NASA’s space centers in the Clear Lake borough of Houston but a world away from high technology, yet it is a world of science — earth, plant, and animal science.
Armand Bayou Nature Center
Red Bluff Road from Webster, Texas, leads to Armand Bayou Nature Center where, for a modest entry fee, visitors can walk along elevated causeways through native forest habitat, across an alligator pond — signs warn not to tease or feed the amphibians — to a farm settlement that has been restored to show the lifestyle of a family that lived along the bayou at the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth centuries. Beyond the vegetable garden is an elevated platform that looks out over a large stretch of prairie, giving a bird’s eye view of the beauty of Texas flatlands, which has the appeal of a minimalist’s watercolor rather than the over-lush exuberance of a Hudson School oil painting. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the prairie trails and gardens give the stroller a chance to look carefully and find the subtle beauty of coastal land and waters.
A morning is well spent at the bayou, but the afternoon and evening belong to the boardwalk. Kemah Boardwalk is a short drive from Armand Bayou down State Road 146. No longer the world of Nature, the boardwalk is the creation of the human mind and muscle with an eye to leisure and amusement in a time-gone-by way.
One good way to become savvy of what is nestled in the corners of the compact Kemah Boardwalk is to take a ride aboard the miniature train, which boards to the right of the entrance and meander around the complex. If that’s not on the schedule, then head to the left when entering for the modest aquarium (there’s a small entry fee) and shopping, straight and to the right for eating places, and to the far right for the amusement park, which has a double-decker carousel, kiddie rides, and thrill rides for the strong of stomach.
Lunch demands a choice of one of several restaurants, but the two current favorites that feature local fare are Joe’s Crab Shack and Landry’s Seafood. The two are different as night and day except for the prevalence of fresh seafood on both menus.
Jeans and a T-shirt are appropriate at Joe’s Crab Shack, which has a tin basin and a roll of paper towels on each table for tossing in the shells and wiping hands after diners crack open a platter of crab legs, for which Joe’s is rightfully famous. Diners can eat either inside and look through the glass wall to watch pelicans dive for their food in the bay or eat on the covered deck in the company of smaller resident birds.
The glassed-in dining rooms on three levels of Landry’s Seafood are a fit setting for ladies in their fun faux pearls, men in their suits and ties, and diners who want elegance with their seafood. The dress can be casual, but it’s a place where visitors can go if they don’t have the right apparel for shelling their own seafood or want a taste of leisure by the seaside as it used to be.
Shopping along Kemah Boardwalk
Shopping at Kemah Boardwalk is reminiscent of New Orleans and San Antonio’s River Walk with its black railings on two-story buildings facing the water. The shops are small and their wares range from the typical T-shirts and corny souvenirs to elegant shops with fine clothing and leather goods. There’s a toy store that has more science-related toys than the gift shop at Space Center Houston, and another children’s store that has soft-toy versions of most everything that shipped out on the Ark.