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Benson is in Southern Arizona. It is in Cochise County. Benson has a unique setting resting in a green valley surrounded by the Dragoon, Whetstone and Winchester Mountains. The town is located on Interstate 10, where State Highway 80 and State Highway 9, begin their path south. It is located along several trade routes. The Union Pacific Railroad has its main line travel through Benson. Benson is located approximately 45 miles east of Tucson, along Interstate 10.
Benson is a great place to use as a springboard to travel to many outdoor activities and attractions in southern Arizona. The town is in the historic San Pedro Valley. Benson’s activities are ranching, tourism, mining and a trading hub. Today Benson’s population is 3,800. The town sits at an elevation of 3,576 feet. The climate is mild. The winter lows are around 62 degrees and summer highs are around 96 degrees. Benson is a town of scenic beauty, friendly hospitality and a community spirit of neighbors. There are many things to see and do in and around Benson.
There are some unique attractions in Benson. The San Pedro and Southwestern Railroad is a great adventure through nature along the San Pedro River. It is a fun trip to take when visiting Benson. The San Pedro Valley Arts and Historical Society Museum is a place to stop in and learn about the history of Benson. The museum is in an old grocery store, which has been restored, right down to the old fashion containers that were sold. In the nearby town of Saint David, about 7 miles south of Benson there is the Holy Trinity Monastery Historical Museum. The museum’s focus is on Native American religious items that were influenced by the church.
Benson has a variety of outdoor spots. A relatively new outdoor place is Kartchner Caverns, State Park. This park opens in the fall of 1999, after years of work to protect the splendid formations inside. The Colossal Cave is another cave near Benson. This cave is a dry cave and gives visitors a good look at the beauty underground. Ramsey Canyon Preserve is a unique place for hiking and taking in nature. The preserve also has cabins to rent with a stream nearby to enjoy. Garden Canyon is a beautiful area filled with wildlife. Some of the animals in the canyon are unique to the area. The Coronado National Monument is a great place to learn about the Spanish influence and history. The memorial offers a scenic drive and hiking trails. For those who enjoy a real adventure the memorial has a natural cave to go exploring in. The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is home to over 100 species of breeding birds. The area is also a habitat for over 250 migrant and wintering birds. Some say that the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area is one of the best birding spots in the country. You see some unique birds and beautiful views during your visit.
The area surrounding Benson has been inhabited for centuries. In 1697, a Spanish officer wrote in his log that the houses along the San Pedro River were on fertile land and except for the frequent Indian attacks; it was a pleasant place to live. Then in 1860, near the place of Benson, the Butterfield stagecoaches crossed the San Pedro River.
It wasn’t until 1880 when the railroad created the town of Benson. The town was chosen for two reasons. One was its proximity to the San Pedro River and the second its location to the mines on the upper San Pedro Valley. Benson became the railroad town for the famous mining town of Tombstone. It was also a shipping point for supplies south to the towns of Bisbee and Douglas.
It was in that same year, that Benson was founded. The town was named after Judge William B. Benson, who was a good friend of Charles Crocker, the Southern Pacific Railroad owner. Benson remained a railroad hub for southern Arizona until 1910.
Today it is a tourist spot, trading hub, and popular retirement town.
San Pedro Valley Arts and Historical Society Museum
The San Pedro Valley Arts and Historical Society Museum houses displays that show Benson’s early history, as a railroad town. Benson was once the main stop for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Since the town’s beginning, there have been changes, which the museum documents. There are photos and artifacts representing life in the early days of mining, ranching, and the railroad.
The San Pedro Valley Arts and Crafts League and the San Pedro Valley Historical Society joined together to make the San Pedro Valley Arts and Historical Society Museum. These two organizations have used their influence to develop an old deserted building in town into a museum. The building was once a grocery store, which became the basis of one of the main displays in the museum. Visitors will see a grocery store set back in time stocked with items in tins and barrels. There are antiques to represent the town from long ago.
The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 to 4:00 pm and Saturday from 10:00 to 2:00 pm.
The San Pedro Valley Arts and Historical Society Museum is located at 180 South San Pedro at the intersection of 5th Street and San Pedro. If you would like to get more precise directions, call 502-586-3070.
The museum is a quaint building that holds several town events. If you have the opportunity, call and stop by when a quilt show or when Mexican Heritage Days are going on Adventures
San Pedro and Southwestern Railroad – Oh wait! Sorry, this no longer exists.
The San Pedro and Southwestern Railroad was a terrific railroad adventure along the San Pedro River, through the Nature Conservancy’s San Pedro River Preserve. Travelers experience the nature of the area inside open-air or enclosed train cars. The enclosed cars were air-conditioned and heated, a bit cool in the winter, but they were a ride in the open-air cars.
The tour lasted for four hours and covered approximately 50 miles. Passengers retrace the track laid over 100 years ago. The tour included a guide, who described the history of the area and the wildlife. A special treat was lunch at the ghost town of Fairbank. Here travelers had a choice of ordering a barbeque lunch from a nearby guest ranch or eating the sack lunch they brought along.
It is very sad that it is gone. I keep in on the site so that maybe someday it will come back.
Ramsey Canyon Preserve
Ramsey Canyon Preserve is owned and operated by The Nature Conservancy. In 1975, the Nature Conservancy established the 300-acre Ramsey Canyon Preserve. It is a spectacular preserve. This canyon is on the eastern half of the Huachuca Mountains, at an elevation of 5,525 feet.
The preserve has a permanent spring-fed stream and hosts a variety of plant and wildlife. The high canyon walls offer Ramsey a cool, moist and stable habitat. There are places to rest and take in the beauty as you walk the three-quarter mile round trip trail. Along the trail, you come across a multitude of wildlife. Visitors may get a trail pass at no charge at the preserve office.
There are at least 15 species of hummingbirds at Ramsey Canyon. That’s not all you will see, there are wrens and woodpeckers flying about. The best time to come and see these creatures is April through September.
The canyon preserve has six furnished cabins for visitors. Guests need to bring food. The cabins offer a bedroom, living room, dining room and kitchen combination. Cabins also include a bathroom. If you want to spend a night in one of these cabins you will need to call in advance. There is a bookstore at the preserve that offers a variety of information that will enhance your visit. The store includes books on birds, nature, and cards to remember your trip.
Ramsey Canyon Preserve is a very popular spot for many nature lovers and hikers. Because of the canyon’s popularity and limited parking, it is advisable to call in advance and/or make your visit during the week. Phone reservations are required during Saturday and Sunday visits. The preserve has limited parking and tours need to be scheduled in advance. You may call the preserve at 520-378-2785.
You can get to Ramsey Canyon Preserve from Sierra Vista and/or Fort Huachuca by taking Highway 92 south out of town. Then you will head west on Ramsey Canyon Road, just outside of town. The preserve is approximately 6 miles out of town.
When starting out from the town of Bisbee, head east on State Highway 80 to the small town of Lowell. Then take State Highway 92 southwest, as you drive along, you will find the highway will begin to head north. Continue to travel on State Highway 92 past Nicksville to the sign for Ramsey Canyon Road. It is just before you get to Sierra Vista.
Coming from the town of Tombstone, take State Highway 80 south out of town. Follow State Highway 80 through the town of Bisbee to the small town of Lowell. Here you will find State Highway 92. Take State Highway 92 southwest, after traveling on the highway it will begin to turn and head north. Continue to travel on State Highway 92 past Nicksville and look for the sign to Ramsey Canyon Road. The preserve is just before you get to Sierra Vista.
The simplest way to get to the Ramsey Canyon Preserve from Benson is to take Interstate 10 east for a very short time until you come to the State Highway 90 exit. Take State Highway 90 south down to Fort Huachuca. Continue through Fort Huachuca and Sierra Vista south out of town, for approximately 6 miles. Then you will see signs for the preserve, head west on Ramsey Canyon Road.
Kartchner Caverns State Park
Kartchner Caverns State Park is one of the best-kept secret destinations. One day on an exploration trip of the area, Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen discovered the caverns in 1974. After realizing what they had found, the two decided to keep their discovery a secret. The cave was kept a secret for 14 years to protect it from vandals and those who might destroy its natural state. During the time of secrecy, the two located the owner of the property in which the cavern lay. Eventually, Tufts and Tenen spoke to the owner, James and Lois Kartchner of the town of Saint David. The group proceeded to ask the state of Arizona if it would like to develop the cavern. Thus, it wasn’t until 1988, when the Arizona State Parks purchased the caverns that its existence was announced to the public.
The cavern has been surveyed to be a little over two miles long, including 13,000 feet of passageways. Kartchner Caverns is a wet, live cave. This means the cave is still forming and growing. The large limestone cave has two rooms as long as football fields. The tour of Kartchner Caverns begins with a ride on an electric tram to the cave’s entrance. A state park ranger hosts the tour. The tour travels along a 40-inch wide hand railed sidewalk for about a mile. The tour lasts approximately one hour.
Once inside, you will have the unique opportunity to see a pristine underground wilderness. Although the caverns are in the desert, the temperature inside is a constant 68 degrees, with humidity at 100 percent. Visitors will see wonderful formations of stalactites dripping from the ceiling and large stalagmites stretching up from the ground. The caverns boast rare quartz needles, nitrocalcite forming like cotton and columns reaching to the ceiling. There are ribbons of color gracing the cavern walls.
The State Park has other facilities to offer to its visitors. The Discovery Center is a 23,000 square foot building filled with exhibits, a gift shop, displays and educational information. There are campgrounds, hiking trails, picnic areas, a play area and an amphitheater.
Since Kartchner Caverns is the premier cavern in Arizona. Arizona State Parks has established the goal to keep the caverns in its natural state. There are some rules when visiting the park. Littering, damaging or removing natural pieces is prohibited. Pets are also required to be on a leash at all times. Photography is allowed, but cameras with flash attachments and video cameras are not permitted inside the cavern. Visitors may use 1,000-speed film to shoot pictures.
Admission is $10.00 per four-person carload, which includes the park and the Discovery Center. Tours of the cave are $14.00 for adults, $6.00 for children 7-14 and children 6 and younger are free. You may decide to get an annual pass for $65.00, which covers admission to the park, Discovery Center, and unlimited hiking and picnicking. Check the prices, as they have likely gone up.
It is highly recommended that you make reservations before heading down to the park. You may call 520-586-2283 for reservations. Reservations may be canceled up to 15 minutes prior to the tour’s start. It is suggested that reserved tickets be claimed at least one hour prior to the tour’s start time.
For more information on the opening of the park and its facilities, call 520-586-4110 or 602-542-4174.
Kartchner Caverns State Park is located in the Whetstone Mountains in southern Arizona. You can get to Kartchner Caverns State Park from Benson by taking State Highway 90 south out of town for approximately 8 miles. You will see signs directing you to the cavern. If you are coming from Phoenix or Tucson take Interstate 10 south out of town, then just before you reach the town of Benson turn south onto State Highway 80. Travel south on State Highway 80, about 8 miles until you see the signs for the caverns.
This State Park is definitely the jewel of Arizona.
Another great caving adventure is Colossal Cave. It is a dry or dormant cave. This means that there is a lack of water inside the cave. The lack of water creates an environment where the formations are no longer growing. This cave is unique in that it is dormant. The Colossal Cave Mountain Park is on the National Register of Historic Places. Prehistoric people and animals have used the Colossal Cave for centuries.
The first tours of the cave were in 1923. These tours were quite different from today’s tours. At that time, visitors came into the cave by ropes and used lanterns to see their way through. The cave has been a point of curiosity throughout the years. There have been many stories about the cave’s history. One such story took place in the 1880’s when a Southern Pacific train was crossing in the area near the Colossal Cave. Masked bandits robbed the train. The robbers got away with $62,000. After stealing the money, the robbers hid out in the recesses of the Colossal Cave.
For three weeks, the sheriff’s posse waited at the mouth of the cave for the robbers to emerge. Unfortunately, they escaped out another exit. Three of the bandits were later captured in the town of Willcox and killed in a gunfight. The fourth robber was captured and sentenced to serve 28 years. After being released, the robber returned to the area. An agent for the Wells-Fargo Express Company followed the robber back to the cave and later found several empty money sacks. The robber was never seen again.
The cave has made changes since those early tours into its caverns. In the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built walkways and lighting to make the cave more accessible. The tour path is a half-mile long and takes visitors approximately 45 minutes to complete. The walk will take visitors down about 6 stories. During the tour, a guide retells the Colossal Cave’s history and geology. There are amazing formations inside the cave from stalactites to flowstone. Colossal Cave Mountain Park is open all year round. Tours are given regularly with the promise that visitors will not wait more than 30 minutes after purchasing a ticket to go on the tour.
There are no special requirements when venturing into the cave. However, if you would like to take photos it is recommended that you use high-speed film for cameras or candlelight setting for video cams. The temperature inside the cave is at a constant 70 degrees and is very comfortable. Visitors should be prepared to climb up and down the 350 or more flagstone steps inside the cave. Visitors will discover more than the cave at the Colossal Cave Mountain Park. There are picnic grounds, horseback trail rides, and cookouts. The area is ideal for hiking and birding. Visitors will also have the opportunity to visit a gift shop and snack bar, during their visit.
The Colossal Cave Mountain Park is open Mondays through Saturdays from 8:00 to 6:00 pm and Sundays and holidays from 8:00 to 7:00 pm. The park does change its hours during the winter (from September 16 to March 15). The hours in the winter are Mondays through Saturdays 9:00 to 5:00 pm and Sundays and holidays 9:00 to 6:00 pm. If you would like information on the riding stables, you may call 520-647-3450. If you would like more information on the Colossal Cave Mountain Park, you can call 520-647-7275.
You can get to the Colossal Cave Mountain Park from Benson by taking Interstate 10 west out of town. Once you come to Exit 279 for Vail take it and then head north for approximately 6 miles. If you are coming from Tucson, you have two paths to the park. One path is to take Interstate 10 east out of town to Exit 279 for Vail. Take the exit and then head north for about 6 miles to the park. Or the other path is to travel on scenic Old Spanish Trail south for about 17 miles until you come to the park.