Historic Benson, Arizona
Heading south into the sun belt of Arizona is a good travel plan during the cool winter season. The extreme heat of summer can be plain old unbearable in southern Arizona destinations, so the winter season is best for visiting places along the Interstate Highway 10 corridor. The legendary old west town of Tombstone is a short drive south of I-10 and another old west community is right next door. Benson, Arizona is southeast of Phoenix on I-10 and this old western town is the gateway to Tombston. Benson is also the gateway to Kartchner Caverns State Park, the Whetstone Mountains and “The Thing?” Of course, there is plenty to experience while in old historic Benson too!
Benson was established as a railroad junction town back in the early 1880s. Processed metal and refined ore from mines in the local region were hauled to Benson by horse and wagon. The ore was loaded on rail cars headed for California and freight from the west coast was directed toward Benson on the return trips. The local railway lines branched out in many directions from Benson, so this little town played an integral part in the progress of the old west. In modern times, Benson is still a railroad town and a few Amtrak passenger car trains pass through this station every week. Touring the open country by rail is still an option in good old Benson!
Like many old railroad towns, the main street commerce area is close to the local railroad station. Many of the old original store front buildings from the early 1900’s are still standing and this adds to the nostalgic charm. There are old fashioned mercantile shops, saloons, art galleries and antique shops in the main street area that are worth checking out. There are even a few businesses that are from the classic Route 66 travel era and it is easy to identify these places when passing through.
A lot of famous people have passed through this town and a lot of history took place in this region in the days of the old west, so as one can imagine, Benson has many stories to tell. Visitors of all ages can learn a little something at the Benson Multicultural History Museum and one might even see an old tin type photo of a long lost ancestor on the walls.
Those who are truly interested in the Desert Southwest, Native American Heritage and tales of the old wild west will find what they seek at the Singing Wind Bookshop. This famous book shop has a loyal following and they stock books about the Southwest that are difficult to find anywhere else.
Another learning experience can be found at the Gammons Gulch Movie Set & Museum in Benson. Many Hollywood westerns have been filmed at this old west style town stage set and making your own western movie is an option at this unique tourist attraction. For those who just cannot get enough old west history, Tombstone is just a little further on down the road.
The first time that I ever heard of Benson, Arizona was while watching the movie Dark Star. Dark Star was John Carpenter’s first production and this movie started off as a University Of Southern California student film project. The movie featured a theme song called “Benson, Arizona” which was about an astronaut who missed his home town while traveling across the galaxy. This song always made me wonder what Benson, Arizona was like and this was part of the inspiration for traveling to this destination. The lyric “Benson, Arizona where the same old stars come out at night …” (Carpenter and Tayler) sure does describe this sleepy old railroad town quite well.
Is Benson, Arizona worth going out of the way for when traveling through the sun belt of the Desert Southwest? Old west nostalgia buffs will certainly say yes, while others will simply pass through this town on the way to Kartchner Caverns or Tombstone while snapping a few photos from the open car window. There are usually no big crowds or long waiting lines, so this old historic town does spell some relief, especially after spending the day at the bustling Tombstone tourist trap. In fact, many folks simply refer to Benson as that sleepy little town on the way to Tombstone and this is okay. For those who dig a little deeper, Benson has plenty to offer!