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.
Down by the River Bed & Breakfast (2255 Efken Place, St. David, Ariz.;  720-9441, http://www.downbytheriverbandb.com) 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.;  720-4642, http://www.holytrinitymonastery.org) for $20 a night.
Dining at tiny Mi Casa (723 W. 4th St., Benson;  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;  586-3523, no website) is open daily.
At Singing Wind Bookshop (700 W. Singing Wind Road, Benson;  586-2425, http://www.facebook.com/singingwindbookshop), 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,  586-2283, www.lat.ms/1G8LJD7), 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;  586-4293, http://www.bensonvisitorcenter.com) is trying to interest someone in such a venture. Until he does, the best option may be renting a car at Tucson International Airport (www.flytucson.com).
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