Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Benson, Arizona 2010 Stopover

Benson really surprised us with all that there was to do. Close by was the incredible Kartchner Caverns State Park which is a virtually unspoiled “live” cave recently discovered in 1974, is host to a wide variety of unique minerals and formations. Tombstone was as an easy day trip as was the mining community of Bisbee. Tombstone is not just the OK Corral and Boot Hill which we visited but we also saw the world's largest rose bush, the historical displays in the Courthouse were informative and the Bird Cage Theater, one of the few surviving structures, was musty but real neat. The weather finally started to cooperate and we had pleasant days. There were some really good places to eat like Gracie's Station and the Apple Farm Restaurant. We cannot believe we jammed all this into just one week. This is definitely a place we want to visit again. For more detailed information read on.

Kartchner Caverns State Park - In 1974 two young spelunkers were exploring the limestone hills near Benson. In the bottom of a sinkhole they found a narrow crack leading into the hillside. Warm, moist air flowed out, signaling the existence of a cave. After several hours of crawling, they entered a pristine cavern. Existence of the cave was kept a secret for a few years and then it was reported to the land owners who sold the area to the State of Arizona for a State Park. It took a few years to develop it as a "live" cave so the park has only been open to the public for a few years.

There are two tours available the Big Room and the Rotunda-Throne Room and we took the Rotunda-Throne Room Tour. It was too late in the day to do both tours, oh well next time. This bell canopy is one of many fascinating features on the tour at Rotunda-Throne Room. It is formed by water flowing over a bump on the wall, then dripping to create this beautiful formation. Full-timing has shown us just how much we don't know about this great land of ours and caves was one of our weaker areas. Now we know all about stalactites and how Kartchner Caverns is home to the world's longest soda straw stalactite at 21'3". We also learned about stalagmites, moonmilk, birdsnests, and turnips. In Kartchner Caverns you will see the only "turnip" shields and "birdsnest" needle quartz formations in the world and the most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk anywhere. So if you are a spelunker then you need to head to Benson ASAP.

No trip to this part of the country would be complete without a trip to Tombstone, site of the infamous shootout at the OK Corral. We actually saw Tombstone on two separate occasions since the historic Courthouse was closed on the first day we went. Turns out the Courthouse is a State Park and Arizona is having a budget crisis so they have closed some State Parks and a number of Rest Areas. Coming back to Tombstone on our way to Bisbee and stopping at the Courthouse was well worth it. We decided not to pay to walk into the OK Corral since it was expensive and we thought it just would not be worth it. You can read about the shootout in many places so we passed. There were a lot of historical markers along with a commentary on politicians, seems like they had issues with politicians back then too.

We also saw the world's largest rosebush while in Tombstone. The trunk is 12 feet in circumference and the rosebush covers over 8,000 square feet. Each spring the rosebush blooms with over a million tiny white blossoms. The accompanying museum about the family that planted the white Lady Banksia rosebush in 1885 and the interactions with other Tombstone residents was one of the better museums we have seen.

The highlight of Tombstone though had to be the Bird Cage Theater, which is one of the few surviving structures from the Earp era. The current owners wanted to have a museum in Tombstone and were surprised to find that the previous owners had just left everything in the building so all they had to do was buy the building and they had their memorabilia along with some supposed ghosts. Legend has it that 26 people were killed at the Bird Cage during its 8 year run and there are countless numbers of bullet holes that you can see to this day. The hearse that carried everybody to Boot Hill from 1881 to 1906 is also part of the exhibit. The only downside to the Bird Cage is that it smells like it was shuttered for a number of years which it was. In fact 6 rooms on the lower level were just opened to the public that have been sealed off since 1889.

Since we were planning on going back to the Tombstone Courthouse and since it was on the way to mining community of Bisbee we decided to combine those in a day trip. Bisbee is a neat city built right into the mountains that provided the copper they were mining. The streets were narrow so we were glad we just had the F-350 but even with that it was narrow. We found a place to park and on our way to the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum we walked by a shop selling Killer Bee honey. Having never tried it we bought a couple different flavors and man are we glad we did as this is good honey. We then toured the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum which is part of the Smithsonian Museum Affiliates Program. We have to say we came away a little underwhelmed by the mining museum so we cannot really recommend. After seeing so many good small museums we were a little disappointed.

As far as food goes we have a confession to make, we are creatures of habit. If we find a good place to eat we go back. So except for a visit to Quiznos, Taco Bell and the deli at a Safeway grocery store we ate at Gracie's Station or the Apple Farm Restaurant for every meal we did not have in our condo on wheels. Both are highly recommended as evidenced by the number of times we ate there. We were getting recognized at the Apple Farm we ate there so many times.

Next time we visit we will visit Kartchner Caverns again and do the Big Room tour. We also plan on the Chirachua National Moonument, a day trip to Wilcox and a visit to the Cochise Stronghold and Dragon Mountain. For food we hope to try other places but will probably eat a lot at Gracie's Station or the Apple Farm Restaurant.

Photos from this visit have been added to flickr.com.

Till next time,

Bob & Jo

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