Texas-Size Fun

by Barbara Twardowski on May 1, 2007 - 1:50pm

QUEST Vol. 14, No. 3

The first skyscrapers I ever saw were in Houston, Texas, when Daddy took our family to the city for a weekend excursion, from Corpus Christi.

My sisters and I spent hours trying on dresses in a massive department store. We’d never seen an escalator and begged to ride it over and over. For lunch, we sat in school desks and ate bowls of chunky chili at the original James Coney Island.

If Dad were to visit downtown Houston today, I’m not sure he’d recognize the place. The good news is the changes have made the city much more accessible to wheelchair users.

Houston is a modern city. The flat terrain, underground downtown tunnel system and accessible streets make it a great place for a gal in an electric wheelchair.

The MetroRail travels only 7.5 miles, yet it gets me to within a few blocks of several major attractions. The 16 stops along the MetroRail route, from I-10 downtown to the 610 South Loop, include popular destinations such as Main Street Square, the Museum District, Hermann Park/Rice University, the Houston Zoo, the Houston Medical Center and Reliant Park.

A one-way ride costs $1 or you can buy an all-day pass for $2. That beats hunting for a parking space, and the train is wheelchair-accessible.

Water fountains shoot streams into the air as the MetroRail glides to a stop in the Main Street Square. Ten new hotels have opened in the past five years, including a 1,200-room Hilton-Americas with a pedestrian crosswalk that connects to the convention center.

Nearby, the Downtown Aquarium’s Ferris wheel lights up the night sky. The Bayou Place entertainment complex has billiards, art house films, live music and restaurants. Houston’s famous sports complexes offer everything from professional baseball, football and hockey to the world’s largest rodeo.

Museums, animals and the arts

You could spend days canvassing the city’s impressive Museum District. At the Houston Museum of Natural Science, some 750 gems and minerals are illuminated with fiber-optic lighting. Explore thousands of years of Native American history and see artifacts from the early space program.

Step inside the Cockrell Butterfly Center, where hundreds of butterflies live in a naturalistic rain forest setting. Visitors inside the three-story glass conservatory typically see 50 to 60 species flying through the balmy air or hovering over a tropical flower. Special doors and an elevator provide access for wheelchair users. Lunch at the on-site McDonald’s or picnic on the grounds. Don’t miss the IMAX and planetarium. Wheelchairs are available on request.

If you’re traveling with youngsters, the Children’s Museum of Houston is a must-see. It’s ranked by Child magazine as one of the nation’s top children’s museums; kids can play TV anchor, paint a masterpiece or travel to a mountain village in Mexico.

This summer the museum is hosting “Transcending Barriers: Selections from the MDA Art Collection” through July 29. Be sure to stop in and see the 28 imaginative pieces created by children who are served by MDA.

Another kid-pleasing attraction is The Health Museum, an affiliate of the world-famous Texas Medical Center. During the daily science lesson, an educator dissects a sheep’s brain to explain neuroscience.

The Health Museum’s main attraction is the Amazing Body Pavilion where a 22-foot-long backbone with ribs descends from the ceiling to the floor. Peer inside a colossal eyeball or sit on a giant tooth. The larger-than-life exhibit features hands-on experiments.

Need some fresh air? The Houston Zoo is located on 55 acres inside Hermann Park. The best time to visit is fall or spring. Even the animals prefer to nap during Houston’s humid summers.

Looking for more cultural diversions? The Houston Museum of Contemporary Art is a noncollecting institution housed in an all-metal building. The rotating exhibits are wheelchair-accessible, and admission is free.

Houston’s downtown Theater District spans 17 blocks and is second only to New York City in the number of seats in a concentrated area. From the Tony Award-winning Alley Theatre to the Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS), the city’s calendar of plays and musicals is packed with traditional family favorites and uniquely Texas productions. Houston is a cosmopolitan city, and visitors also can sample the ballet, symphony and opera.

For more information, call (800) 4Houston.

Worth the drive

Galveston Island is 50 miles south of Houston. Only 2 miles wide, the 32-mile-long island has charming Victorian architecture, a wheelchair-accessible fishing pier and a year-round water park.

No one expects to see pyramids in Texas, but there are three of them in Galveston. Moody Gardens is an educational/entertainment center with a 10-story glass Rainforest Pyramid, a Discovery Pyramid with interactive traveling exhibits and the Aquarium Pyramid where guests get a diver’s-eye view of the underwater world.

Stay at the Moody Gardens Hotel and take a swim in the indoor, heated, lap pool. A full body lift assists guests with disabilities.

Make a splash at one of Galveston’s newest attractions — Schlitterbahn Waterpark, the world’s first convertible water park. When the temperatures drop, a 70,000-square-foot area of the park becomes an indoor water playground with more than a dozen heated attractions.

Galveston has an interesting collection of museums. Visitors can step aboard an oil rig at the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum, imagine riding the rails at the Railroad Museum and view one of the finest collections of restored aircraft at the Lone Star Flight Museum.

Getting around Galveston in a wheelchair is easy. Catch an Ebus (an electric bus) for 75 cents; you can also contact Dial-a-Ride.

Barbara Twardowski of Mandeville, La., has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.

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