Whetstone is a small town of just over 2,000 residents in Southeastern Arizona’s Cochise County. It is in the desert of the great American Southwest where the likes of Cochise and Geronimo, as well as ranchers and cattle rustlers, made their marks on history. Nearby Fort Huachuca, now a fully operational U.S. Army base, was once the home of the U.S. Cavalry that engineered the surrender of Geronimo in the 1880s. Once named Sulger City after Paul Sulger, a wealthy landowner, it now shares its name with a vast mountain range instead.
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Along with its proximity to Tombstone, of legendary Wyatt Earp fame, it is also in the same region as Benson, Bisbee, and Douglas, all of which contributed to Arizona’s copper mining history, as well as Sierra Vista, a fairly large city that is Cochise County’s commercial center and the hummingbird capital of the U.S.
The Whetstone Mountains are part of the sky island ranges, the Madrean Sky Islands, and are part of the Coronado National Forest. While the Whetstone range is not very accessible, it is lovely to view in the distance. In fact, it is at Iron Springs, nestled within the Whetstones, that Wyatt Earp fought in a gunfight during his famous Earp Vendetta ride in 1982. The Whetstones have five major peaks: Apache, rising almost 8,000 feet, French Peak nearly as high, and Granite Peak in the south at nearly 7,500 feet. Last is East Peak, at nearly 6,700 feet. In the central-east part of the range is the amazing Kartchner Caverns State Park.
When traveling in and about the Whetstone area, those who relish nature’s wizardry, however, will be thunderstruck at the show waiting at Kartchner Caverns, just 9 miles south of Benson. An AZ state park, Kartchner is maintained with great care, so much so that the mineral deposits in the limestone caverns continue to produce deposits called speleotherms that have been growing for over 50,000 years. These are spectacular looking. Moreover, the caverns are part of a show cave with over 2.4 miles of passages. The park also encompasses most of a block of Palaeozoic rocks on the east flank of the Whetstone Mountains. Thus, it is a must-see for fans, also, of geology, as interestingly the caverns were not even discovered until 1974.
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With Arizona’s second largest city, Tucson, lying to the west of Cochise County in Pima County, a visit to Tucson, home of the University of Arizona and a city often referred to as the cultural hub of the state, it would not be difficult to make a side excursion to the area where the Wild West got its reputation. From old mining and ranch sites to legendary ghost towns and scenes of battles with Apache warriors that threatened the early settlers, traveling through Whetstone, Tombstone, and some of the other small towns and settlements in this part of Arizona has its own special appeal. With Huachuca City also in the area, with its very modern military base and over 6,000 active duty soldiers, Fort Huachuca, there is also an opportunity for a glance back into history with two onsite museums that chronicle the story of the US Army in the Southwest. Moreover, to make that history even more exciting, the scenic beauty all around is breathtaking, with mountains and bluffs rising when least expected and allowing one to imagine what it was like to be hiding in those hills as those of extreme bravery once did.