I was going to do a "contest" thing here where I was going to give a prize to the person who could identify this super-ultra-top-secret-location, but I changed my mind, in part because I can't quite figure it out myself, but also because I decided that I want to tell a story instead. It's probably not going to be a good story, but it was definitely not going to be a good prize. Hey, you pay your money, you take your chances.
This is a love story, a tale of a drive that made me fall hopelessly, desperately in love with northern California.
Prior to this trip, I had been to California only once before -- we went to San Diego for my 29th birthday because: hey, why the hell not? San Diego was lovely and that was a great trip, but it was not somewhere I could imagine living. Everything is rocky and succulent, manicured and irrigated, perfect weather, exceptional surfing. The people were all friendly, and I could buy wine in the grocery store, but it never really felt like home.
Driving through this reservoir, though? Seeing the vibrant greens and the deep blue sky and feeling like I was in some kind of technicolor daydream? Holy shit ... this was my kind of place. (And I hadn't even spent any time with G's relatives yet, who were at least twice as fantastic as the scenery.)
Douglas Adams wrote once about a place where he said that "[o]ne's first impulse, standing on a cliff top surveying it all, is simply to burst into spontaneous applause" (emphasis mine). This is how I felt when we drove through the reservoir. I made G stop the car so I could take pictures. Who does that? What total wackaloon makes their husband pull over so she can sniff the air and taste the wind and basically roll around in the grass like a dog? Me, apparently.
And I'd totally do it again. I want to do it again, as soon as possible.
As far as we can tell (and G and I both looked at multiple Google maps, online photo galleries, and Wikipedia entries while we were investigating), these are pictures of the San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area in Merced County, California. What we know for sure is this: wherever this is, we drove through a vast expanse of land just like this on our way from the San Jose airport to Merced for G's grandmother's funeral.
And even though we were out there for a funeral, it was one of the best trips we've ever had. (And no, you don't get a prize for reading all the way through to the end.)