The 10-acre Darby ranch sits just off a road outside of Redmond. Nestled into the setting is a wooden bridge and a juniper tree with a yellow rope swing attached.
>Maria Darby of Redmond prepares for her duties as 2001 CRR Queen
This time of day, the late afternoon, is feeding time.
Eight horses graze on the ankle-length grass beneath a blue sky speckled with small, white clouds.
Behind the juniper, Maria Darby keeps an eye on her sister Maureen's 6-year-old Paint horse named Ima Hot Buckshot.
Before the day is done, Darby will go on a short horseback ride, something that has been an integral part of the 23-year-old's life.
"Horses don't leave a lot of time for other hobbies," she says. "It's kind of time consuming and money consuming."
A 1996 graduate of St. Helens High School and a 2000 graduate of Eastern Oregon University, Darby will bring her horsemanship experience to the 2001 Crooked River Roundup, set for June 22-24 at the Crook County Fairgrounds, where she will be the queen.
"I've thought about trying out off and on over the last few years, but with school and stuff, it wasn't a high priority. It wasn't something I considered," she explains.
Darby was crowned Nov. 12 of last year, a day before her birthday.
"It was a big surprise," she admits. "I was really excited because I didn't expect it to happen. I'm kind of older to be trying out, but I thought `I'll just do it and see what happens.' "
Born in Portland and raised in St. Helens, Darby recalls coming to the Crooked River Roundup as a part of the Columbia County Rodeo Court in high school.
After graduating last June from Eastern, Darby's life has centered around her job in accounts payable for a Redmond fiberglass manufacturer and lately, on her duties as the Crooked River Roundup Queen.
The days since she was crowned CRR queen have gone by fast Darby says. She has already started to represent the CRR at rodeos around the state. She kicked off her reign at a rodeo in Klamath Falls and was at an event in Salem Memorial Day weekend.
By the end of the summer, Darby figures she'll have attended 13 to 15 rodeos.
"All of the sudden, it's happening," she says. "I'm looking at my June calendar and going, `Oh my goodness, where did the time go and do I have the time left to get everything else ready.' "
Darby will have her hands full the entire week prior to the Crooked River Roundup. She expects to meet with sponsors, make an appearance at the Spikes and Spurs Golf Tournament, and be a part of the annual Prineville cattle drive.
"I'm not nervous yet, but I probably will be. I'm a very nervous person by nature," Darby says. "I've enjoyed working with the board, so I'm just really excited to see what they've been working on behind the scenes all year long and I'm excited to see it actually happen."
If this sounds like Darby has her plate full, there's more.
In July, she will begin her master's degree in secondary education. She will attend the Eastern Oregon University extension at COCC where she will aspire to teach high school social studies.
While continuing her education, Darby will continue to live with her parents Mike and Marilyn and two sisters Maureen and Megan.
"All of us have "M" names," she interrupts with a laugh.
While her duties as CRR queen will include wearing a wide-variety of outfits to different rodeos, Maria Darby feels her duties extend far beyond wearing a certain hat or a certain colored shirt.
"To me, it isn't about how much money you spend or how much clothes you wear," she explains. "It's how you present yourself and your rodeo."