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Friday, June 09, 2023 — Houston, TX

Fresh Air: Five more outdoor destinations perfect for a socially distant semester

Illustrated by Dalia Gulca

By Ella Feldman     2/2/21 9:38pm

Last August, as students were bracing for their first full semester in the pandemic, the Thresher brought you a roundup of nine outdoor destinations perfect for a life defined by social distancing. Five months later, with the spring semester unfolding and social distancing measures very much still in place, we’re back with more. Close your laptop, grab your mask and check out these five outdoor spaces in Houston — your brain will thank you.

Menil Park

The Menil Collection is one of Houston’s premier destinations for the arts, but you don’t even have to enter the building to enjoy their offerings. Across the street from the actual museum lies Menil Park, a lush green space featuring wide lawns shaded by oak trees. The Menil is home to a number of outdoor sculptures, including Jim Love’s “Jack” (1971) — his 10-foot tall take on the childhood toy. Tucked into residential Montrose, Menil Park is easily accessible by car, bike or a 30-minute walk from campus, and is an ideal spot for everything from a picnic to class readings. 

Waugh Drive Bat Colony

Every evening around twilight, a certain group of Houstonians is just opening their eyes and getting their day started: the city’s bats. Under the Waugh Drive Bridge, which is located north of Montrose near Buffalo Bayou, resides one of Texas’ largest Mexican free-tail bat colonies. If you get there at the right time on any given day, you’ll get to witness the colony’s morning routine — hundreds of bats swooping out from under the bridge and into the lavender sky. Houston’s parks and recreation department has conveniently installed a bat observation deck for safe viewing, but there’s plenty of green space to lounge around on while you enjoy the show. You can get to the Waugh Drive Bridge from campus in 12 minutes by car or 25 minutes by bike — just read up on bat viewing etiquette before heading out.

Houston Botanic Garden

After two years of construction, the Houston Botanic Garden finally opened its doors to the community at the beginning of last semester — with Rice alumna Claudia Gee Vassar at its helm. “I love being a part of creating something wonderful for this city that everyone can enjoy and my kids and generations to come will get to enjoy,” Vassar told the Thresher in October. Houston Botanic Garden showcases a diversity of greenery, featuring a global collection garden, a culinary garden and a family discovery garden. It also makes a point of showcasing the biodiversity within Houston, according to Vassar. Located in South Houston, you can get to the garden by car in just about 15 minutes.

The Drive-In off Navigation

In the last installation of this series, we recommended The Drive-In at Sawyer Yards, which was operated by Rooftop Cinema Club about 15 minutes away from campus. They’ve since closed that location, but this past weekend, they opened The Drive-In off Navigation, which is located in Downtown Houston about 17 minutes away from campus by car. If you’re a movie fanatic, you’ve probably been missing the big screen, and outdoor drive-ins like the ones operated by Rooftop Cinema Club are the perfect way to get your movie theater fix while keeping yourself and others safe. Tickets at The Drive-In off Navigation cost $22 to $36 per vehicle, depending on the day and the number of people in your car, but they also host monthly community screenings during which tickets cost $5 to $10 per car and proceeds are donated to The Beacon, a local non-profit that helps the homeless community. This month’s lineup includes films like “Friday the 13th,” “Selena,” “Casablanca” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

Rice Community Gardens

For those who don’t have access to a car or a bike and aren’t up for a long walk, Rice’s community gardens might have all you need. The largest community garden on campus is the Betty and Jacob Friedman Holistic Garden, which is adjacent to the Media Center, but smaller ones can be found near Wiess College and Hanszen College. The gardens are there for the entire Rice community to enjoy, but students looking to take a deeper dive into the world of community gardening might enroll in EBIO/ENST 204: Environmental Sustainability. Every semester, professor Joseph Novak teaches students the ins and outs of sustaining a garden, supplementing actual time spent out in the gardens with informational lectures. 

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