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Roger Weller, geology instructor                     

Whetstone Mountains
Brenda Shannon
Physical Geology
Fall 2005

                                                   French Joe Canyon
                     Whetstone Mountains, Arizona


     The French Joe Canyon is located in the Whetstone Mountains in Cochise County, Arizona, between Benson and Sierra Vista just off of Highway 90.  The Whetstone Mountains are part of the highly faulted Basin and Range Province which covers the southwestern half of Arizona and continues to the north and west into Nevada and western Utah (Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, August 1999).  It is nestled in the Coronado National Forest, surrounded by Kartchner Caverns and Mine Canyon.  The drive off highway 90 to the parking area for the canyon is several miles and is not recommended for just any type of vehicle.  The two-track road is not maintained, so it is the best to drive a vehicle with four wheel drive or at least one that is not to low to the ground.  Once you reach the base of the mountain you will have to walk the trail to the canyon itself, but what a beautiful place to see.  This canyon is one of the best places in the country to go birding, hiking, exploring, and camping.  Named after a French prospector named Joe, which the legends name, Joe was looking for gold in the mountains and had discovered several nuggets but was later killed in a shootout where he was taken hostage by some Mexican bandits hiding from the law.  French Joe was supposedly the only one killed in the battle.

     The Whetstone Mountains have been known for the shootout at Mescal Springs where Wyatt Earp shot and killed Curly Bill.  Here various fossils have been found in different formations. 

Syringopora coral from the Black Prince formation, Pennsylvanian-R.Weller

    The recently discovered Kartchner Caverns are located next to French Joe Canyon.  French Joe Canyon is now becoming a popular hot spot for observing different types of  birds and animal species in addition to the caves and hiking trails.

    There are also small mine tunnels in the area.

     These photos were taken in the canyon along the main trail.  As you can see the small cave as well as the beautiful wild grape vines growing in the sycamore trees.

     These caves sit above the caverns and further up in the canyon some are quite hidden in the agaves and trees.  These caves are dangerous and should not be explored by just anyone, but they are still interesting to look at.

    Further up the trail, you can see the peak of the Mine Canyon, another great place to hike in the Whetstone Mountains.  There is a natural spring running down this canyon that has been made into a box spring and is well known for its fresh water.

     These are all effects of Nature, as you can see the roots of trees due to the rain water running down the canyon and causing erosion on the sides of the canyon.  This leaves beautiful rocks to find and different types of insects to see.


 You must be careful when exploring due to this being a natural habitat for different types of wildlife, such as deer, javelinas, and mountain lions, and in the warmer seasons, rattlesnakes.

     According to Stuart Healy of the Western US bird guide, since 1995 there have been 147 different species of birds found in French Joe Canyon.  Some of the different types are hawks, eagles, flycatchers, kinglets, New World warblers and several types of hummingbirds.,htmes

    This is the view of the Whetstone Mountains from the east.  Limestone overlies Kartchner Caverns above French Joe Canyon.

Photo is by Roger Weller, Cochise College.