Bats, birds and caving in Benson, Ariz.

Benson, Arizona, is a natural attraction for birders and cave fans; for Old West fans, Tombstone awaits

Lots of people think of Benson, Ariz., along Interstate 10 about 40 miles east of Tucson, as just the exit for Tombstone. You won't find gunslingers toting six-shooters here, but this town is rich in natural attractions. There's a sprawling subterranean cavern into which bats first led humans just 40 years ago. The San Pedro River Valley is home to hundreds of types of birds. For a reference guide, stop by the ranch that doubles as the local bookstore.

The bed

Down by the River Bed & Breakfast (2255 Efken Place, St. David, Ariz.; [520] 720-9441, features four unique rooms with themes such as birding and prospecting. Seclusion is key; the B&B is 12 miles from Benson, and the paving ends four miles away at the old dynamite factory. Breakfast entrees include Mike and Angie Hug's spin on French toast; it's stuffed with ham, Havarti cheese and pears and topped with raspberry sauce. Rooms start at $125 a night mid-week, but it will be closed for renovations June 1-Aug. 31. Across the river, RVers can park beside Holy Trinity Monastery (1605 S. St. Marys Way, St. David, Ariz.; [520] 720-4642, for $20 a night.

The meal

Dining at tiny Mi Casa (723 W. 4th St., Benson; [520] 245-0343, no website) is definitely worth the inevitable wait. Owners Andy and Santa Sutton close Saturday and Sunday for family time, so try to include a weekday in your trip. The salsa ranks among the finest anywhere. Enjoy the tempting trio called Enchiladas Bandera ($9.99) before downing some delectable carrot cake ($5.99), made from an old family recipe. For Italian and American food, Galleano's Restaurant (601 W. 4th St., Benson; [520] 586-3523, no website) is open daily.

The find

At Singing Wind Bookshop (700 W. Singing Wind Road, Benson; [520] 586-2425,, visitors announce their arrival by yanking the chain attached to a rusty bell in the front yard. Inside Winifred Bundy's home, the collection of new books fills three rooms from floor to ceiling. The 84-year-old specializes in the Southwest but there's plenty more. Check out books on caving before heading to Kartchner Caverns State Park (2980 Arizona Route 90, Benson, [520] 586-2283,, another local gem. The cave, a relatively recent discovery, didn't open for tours until 1999. Reservations required.

The lesson learned

Although there's overnight Amtrak service between Los Angeles and Benson, passengers won't find a rental car company in town. Bob Nilson of the Benson Visitor Center (249 E. 4th St., Benson; [520] 586-4293, is trying to interest someone in such a venture. Until he does, the best option may be renting a car at Tucson International Airport (


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