March 9, 2005 - Most modern cowboys and girls are not above taking Interstate 10 at times - hurtling toward relaxing picnics at Picacho Peak, let's say, in the fast lane.

But back before the freeway came in and sped up Marana's internal clock, mellow ranchers used to wind down from busy workdays by sipping coffee, poking at golden embers, and singing trail songs as campfires died.

The Marana Arts Council wants to recreate that life.

It's just temporary, and it will still involve racing to Picacho Peak, but when ranchers and rancher wannabes arrive at the arts council's Trail Ride for the Arts event on March 26, they will find peaceful trails, nonplussed horses and old-time music they can kick back to.

If Managing Director Sandy Groseclose gets her wish, the Picacho Peak ride will be the first of many annual rides to nurture appreciation of the Southwest's cultural arts.

"We're in cowboy country," Groseclose said. "Many people who come from here are cowboys out on ranches or have competed in rodeos."

The arts council's entry into the world of corralling quadrupeds came about because one of its board members, Janice Mitich, is a cowboy poet. She proposed offering a trail ride like the ones she used to take with the now-defunct Eloy-based group Council of Western Spirit - COWS.

Appropriately, the Old West adventure will fall a week after Marana Founders Day, the annual celebration of the town's birth. It will fall the day before Easter, the first week of spring.

The registration deadline is March 12.

"We'll celebrate the return of the rains and the break in the drought," Mitich said.

The honest-to-goodness ranchers in the crowd will transport their own quadrupeds to Picacho Peak for the ride. For the wannabes, rental horses will be available.

A three-hour ride will begin at 9 a.m., and will be followed by a ride half that length at 10 a.m. Depending on interest, a second half-length ride may follow at noon.

Picacho Peak, made of tilted lava, should be teeming with golden poppies, Mitich said. Hawks should be soaring, critters should be scurrying, and some attentive rider may even spot a loping coyote on the trail.

"Life quiets down and you start really seeing things," Mitich said. "It lifts the worries of the world off you for a while."

When riders return to camp, they will encounter a variety of activities available all day for the nonriders in their midst.

Wagon rides, powered by miniature horses, will amuse children. Artists will fill blank canvases with Picacho Peak scenes. Members of the Buffalo Soldier Re-enactors Association will show off old-time battle gear.

Tired trail-riding artists will have the chance to finding unoccupied boulders, kicking back, and trying their hands at landscape sketching.

Then, as the sun sinks toward the horizon, the long-awaited campfire cookout will begin. Fresh desert air will mingle with pungent-smelling smoke. Servings of chicken and steak will satiate rancher-sized appetites.

"things smell better and taste better out there," Mitich said.

Then the entertainment will begin. Mitich will recite her cowboy poems to draw her listeners deeper into a recreated world of roping and corralling. Her twin sister will read poems, too, as will two other country bards.

"it's another way to time travel," Mitich said.

Old trail-riding melodies will rise and fall before the ranchers-for-a-day give up the daydream and aim their speedy vehicles down I-10, again, toward Marana.

But take it from a real cowgirl - Mitich promised that the effects of the trail ride wouldn't die out like smoking embers in a quickly extinguished fire. Some effects, in fact, would reveal themselves only with passing time.

"They won't be sore," she said, "until the next day."

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