Entertainment Magazine
Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains

Peppersauce Canyon–
A Spicy Mystery

By Robert Zucker

Peppersauce Canyon is a popular public camping and hiking spot tucked away in the northern Santa Catalina Mountains, behind Oracle and the Old Hat Mining District. The canyon is more known for its name, and beauty, than as a site for mineral deposits.

The canyon was a comfortable retreat for the laborers from the nearby mines. There are several variations how Peppersauce Canyon acquired its name.

According to one story in the 1880s, prospector Alex McKay, stopped there for lunch and left behind his pepper sauce bottle. His friends reminded him about it and he went back to retrieve it. His friends teased him by naming the canyon after the incident. [36]

And, in another story, McKay would secretly store his cache in the canyon nearby the mining camps. One day, he discovered his prized bottle of hot sauce missing, he spent days searching for it in the canyon. The thief was never caught, but his friends perpetuated the name to remind him of his loss. [37]  [38] [39] That bottle might still be out there.

Local prospector and pioneer cowboy Buster Bailey worked with a gold mill in the Peppersauce Canyon during the 1930s with his brother-in-law and several others. When he was 18 or 19, he hauled ore from the Southern Belle Mine to the mill in the Peppersauce Canyon.

He spent hours feeding ore into a small crusher. It paid off, he said, but they eventually shut it down.

Bailey said that “lots of gold (was) taken from this mining property. The old boys that did that work sure knew what they were doing.” He remembered seeing an old money safe with its door blown off in the canyon not far from the Southern Belle mine. [40]



[36] “It’s cool, shady in Peppersauce Canyon,” by Bryan Lee, Tucson Citizen, July 16, 2007.

[37] “Peppersauce: A canyon with spice,” Tucson Daily Citizen, January 28, 1972. Peppersauce Canyon is 11 southeast of Oracle.

[38] “Peppersauce Campground,” Coronado National Forest.

[39] “The pepper sauce was stolen from their camp. So they called it for this incident,” from “Pepper Sauce Wash,” Letter from Frank C. Lockwood, Tucson, 1921. Source “Arizona Place Names,” by Will C. Barnes. University of Arizona Bulletin No. 2, 1935. Page 325.