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Once Just a Dusty Desert Outpost, Today Benson Draws Tourists on Their Way to Amazing Kartchner Caverns State Park
Overview: Along Interstate 10 in Arizona's southeastern corner, Benson is about 40 minutes southeast of Tucson. The Southern Pacific Railroad came to this Chihuahuan Desert outpost in 1880 and brought with it cattlemen, shopkeepers and a few scallywags.
Today, tourists come because the town is the gateway to amazing Kartchner Caverns State Park, home to two and a half miles of 50,000 year old underground passageways. A little rough around the edges, Benson is flat and spread out, with mountains looming in the distance. Dusty pickup trucks, cowboy boots, rodeos and line dancing events are common. Gammons Gulch, a Western movie set and museum, draws Hollywood productions (and tourists) looking for the quintessential Old West dirt street, complete with wooden sidewalks, hitching posts, a saloon and a livery. The public San Pedro Golf Course has 18 holes, and the Benson Museum, with an adobe facade, hosts a farmers' market, a stagecoach event and a Christmas festival. Desert recreation, including camping and bicycling, is just a stone's throw away.
All the basics are here, including gas stations, mini-marts, banks, fast food outlets, groceries, dentists, veterinarians and the like, many located along the main drag. Landscaping is minimal, and homes are mostly simple ranch ramblers, two story Mediterraneans and manufactured. A large RV park is here, too.
Population: 5,000 (city proper)
Age 45 or Better: 56%
Cost of Living: 14% below the national average
Median Home Price: $157,000
Climate: Summer temperatures are in the 90s and low-100s, and winter temperatures are in the 60s, 70s and 80s. On average, the area receives 14 inches of rain per year.
At Least One Hospital Accepts Medicare Patients? Yes
At Least One Hospital Accredited by Joint Commission? No. The nearest accredited hospital is in Sierra Vista, 28 miles away.
Public Transit: Yes, a bus service, and Amtrak runs to Los Angeles.
Crime Rate: Meets the national average
Public Library: Yes. It has a large snake sculpture on the front of it and is hard to miss.
Political Leanings: Very conservative
College Educated: 30%
Is Arizona Considered Tax Friendly for Retirement? Yes
Cons: Benson has lost about 2% of its population in the last decade.
Notes: Benson does not ooze charm but is starting to attract people who work on Tucson's eastern edge. The Union Pacific Railroad now runs through town, and train whistles are often heard. Many residents belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Recommended as a Retirement Spot? Yes, but the distance to an accredited hospital should be weighed.
The Grand Canyon State was originally part of New Mexico. After the land was ceded to the U.S. in 1848, it became a separate territory. It did not enter the union until February 14, 1912. Copper was discovered in the area in 1848, and metals mining continues to be an important part of the economy. Cattle and tourism are two of the states other vital industries.
Although Arizona can be one of the hottest states in the union, air conditioning continues to bring more and more people to the urban areas. The Colorado Plateau spreads through Arizona from the north and is interspersed with remnants of the Rocky Mountains. The land flattens into desert near Phoenix. The Colorado River forms the state's western borders and snakes through the Grand Canyon.
Arizona is home to places with names like Nothing, a ghost town in western Arizona, and the Horspitality Resort.
The state is stubborn when it comes to time. It observes Mountain Standard Time on a year round basis.
Population - 6,931,030
Persons 65 years old and over - 17%
High school graduates, persons age 25+ - 86%
Bachelor's degree or higher, persons age 25+ - 27%
Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin - 31%
White persons, not Hispanic - 58%
Median household income - $50,225
Median home value - $167,500
Social Security taxed? No
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
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