Peel off the I-10 and curve along Ocotillo Road, past old West-sounding streets like Trail Dust and Sage. Hang a right at the mailbox with the backwards “SW,” judder down a dirt lane and veer left at the white water tank.
The last thing you’d expect to find is a bookstore, parked as you are at a ranch in a wide expanse of cactus and creosote corralled by mountains. But the setting is apropos for the Singing Wind bookshop, “headquarters for books about the Southwest,” as the metal sign proclaims in branding iron font.
Owner Winn Bundy opened the shop in 1974 on her working ranch near Benson, Arizona, 48 miles east of Tucson. It still has a home-grown feel.
When I ring the bell, a Dalmatian-lab mix bounds over from the corral, and Bundy greets me with a bright smile in a suntanned face, her gray-blond ponytail tucked under a pith helmet.
Inside, the shop is compact but mazy, with floor-to-ceiling books and a woodsy, library perfume. It has the haphazard character of a used bookshop, though all the tomes are new.
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Book nuts love searching for Southwest titles like these at the Singing Wind Bookshop near Benson.
Half the fun is the (absolutely essential) tour of the eccentric bibliographic arrangement. Bundy reels off a litany of subjects as she points to unlabeled shelves: “Ghost towns, guidebooks, mining, geology, hearing impaired and the brain…Westerns: Zane Grey, Hillerman, Michael Blake. Indians of the Southwest, Indians outside the Southwest…Short Californians—that’s the size of the books, not the people. New Mexico, Indian rock art, archaeology. The Jewish Western experience—very important.”
Regulars are charmed by the small staff’s personal service and even the atavistic payment system. Bundy doesn’t accept credit cards; her tiny desk is topped with a calculator and carbon paper for hand writing receipts. When I pay in cash (I spotted a book about the cultural and genetic history behind liking spicy food), she unrolls my dollar change from an old baby food jar and plucks coins from a used vitamin bottle.
Customers usually hear about the shop by word of mouth, though the grapevine seems to stretch across the world. “I’ve been in the business 33 years,” says Bundy, “so it’s a lot of word of mouth.”
Bundy says what makes Singing Wind special is that the collection is comprehensive but its base is the Southwest and West. The appeal is about unexpected gems—the serendipity of stumbling on a book you would never have thought to look for and that only the most adventurous bibliophiles could find. Rather like the shop itself.
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