Where the streets have no name...literally.
Keystone peak is the highest point in the Sierrita Mountain range, roughly forty miles southwest of Tucson. The Sierrita is a freestanding range, rising from the valley floor to the summit at Keystone. The range is home to a great deal of mining activity, some of which dates back to the turn of the twentieth century. The area has been home to the McGee family since that time, and now boasts a small township named "McGee Settlement", situated at the entrance point to the trail. Just after starting down the trail one encounters the "McGee Ranch Cemetery" which has been in use since the 1920's and after 2.6 miles one encounters McGee Cabin, an abandoned mining cabin built in 1911 by an ancestor of those who still live in the area. The trail and Keystone peak all fall on private property still owned by the McGee family, but they allow unfettered access to hikers, cyclists, and all-terrain vehicles. Sections of the trail are now leased to the Sierrita Mining & Ranching Company and Keystone Peak is adorned with multiple communications towers whose owners also lease the property from the McGees. Numerous live and abandoned mines dot the hillside as one ascends the trail. The "trail" itself is an improved dirt road requiring no technical ascent capability.
After passing through and closing the gate near the water tank parking area, the trail wanders past the homes of the current McGee family embers residing in the area. Soon thereafter, the family cemetery is encountered just north of the trail. This section of trail is level and well-shaded. Deer and squirrel seem to take refuge here and can be seen in abundance. Many side roads and trails break off from the main one, some lead to mine workings and stock tanks, others connect to other parts of the range. Most of these trails are unnamed and some are unmapped. The main trail follows alongside a canyon bottom slowly gaining grade until it suddenly begins to climb sharply toward Shiloh pass, a saddle 1.3 miles in from the trailhead. The views to the south from Shiloh pass are amazing, and Keystone peak is not visible for the first time. After the pass the trail breaks into three segments, continue along the trail to the right (northeast).
Off-trail Option: If there has been significant rain recently, one may wish to continue on the trail heading due west and down into Shiloh canyon. Numerous waterfalls exist along the granite outcroppings in the riparian canyon bottom.
The trail winds its way northwest and then makes a hairpin turn and begins climbing with increased grade along the south wall of ridge. This area is populated by a series of ever-increasingly large juniper and you begin to notice a slight change in the surroundings which have now become scrub oak forest. Manzanita and juniper perfume the air and the workings of a large mine tunnel and its tailings can be seen just across the canyon on the opposing wall, below. The trail levels for a while and beings a slow curve around the ridge heading back toward Placer Peak, which is directly south. After winding around the ridge and retaking a northwesterly course, the trail climbs a short grade and in the trees just ahead one can see McGee cabin. The cabin stands at roughly 2.7 miles in from the trailhead and is situated in a cleft between the ridge the trail was just following and another connecting from the northwest. A bench, a larger picnic table, and a permanent BBQ grill have been added to the site; however, many of the cabin's original accompaniments are still present. Just north of the cabin sits a well, and to the south and closer to the trail are the remains of an ore grinding pit. The trail climbs away from McGee cabin in a southerly direction heading toward Keystone Peak.
Off-trail Option: Just after leaving McGee Cabin, a rough and steep route drops into the canyon bottom opposite the cabin site and reconnects with the main trail after an eighth of a mile. Along this route lie a spring and some weathered water tanks.
For the next mile and a half the trail begins to wind into the hills facing away from Placer Peak and heading into a saddle just below Keystone Peak. The trail passes a large mine tunnel after turning northwest and climbing slightly. The grade along this stretch of trail is fairly consistent and the tress become scarce, as does shelter from the sun. At just about three miles from the trailhead, Bills Spring is encountered. The spring appears to have water available year-round. Just after the spring the trail begins to ascend steadily into a pass below Keystone Peak. Another trail disembarks here to the west, and the views west become expansive. On a clear day much of Kitt Peak and Boboquivari can be seen in detail. The trail turns south and begins to climb steadily just below and to the west of Keystone peak. After circling behind Keystone, the trail crosses paths with a large, active mine tunnel.
The trail continues to climb steadily until reaching a minor saddle overlooking Champurrado Wash to the south, here the trail turns east and begins climbing sharply. The grade of the trail during this final quarter-mile climb onto the peak is similar to a staircase. Just below, a large mine and support structure are visible in Curparrado Wash. After matching elevation with the bases of the communications towers, the trail makes a sharp left turn and joins the summit of Keystone Peak. You've come 4.2 miles and the elevation is 6171 feet. The views are expansive, and many great vistas exist on the edges of the peak. Te best way to take it all in is to walk the edge of he peak in a circle and explore.
Author's Note: When I was on the summit I encountered a member of the McGee family who invited me to join him in climbing to a platform atop one of the communications towers. A series of "bolt pegs" forms a ladder climbing some sixty feet to a small steel platform in the center of the tower. He stated that the family didn't have a problem with visitors taking in the view from this tower, provided they don't fall. It should be noted, however, that some of the other towers and buildings belong to government agencies and should be left alone. - Jun 23 2008 jeffmacewen