Yogi Berra, the great Yankees catcher, once observed that, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” I wonder what sort of future prospectors envisioned in the 1800s when they chased narrow veins of copper ore running with seams of hard quartz in these remote southeastern Arizona mountains.

We recently packed up our side-by-side and trailered it into the Patagonia Mountains by way of Duquesne Road, off Hwy. 82, southwest of Patagonia. Our goal that day was the Buena Vista Mine.

The drive to the mine site is pretty dicey, even with our high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle. After a short run up a very sandy Providencia Wash, a Forest Road goes north. It is approximately one mile of rough road to the waste rock site. The road was so deeply rutted that we had to stop and hike up a very steep incline to get to where we could begin collecting.

It always makes me wonder how a place that is so difficult to even walk to ended up becoming a productive mine. There is no sign of rails here. No sign of a tramway. The valuable ore must have been packed out in 100-pound bags on the backs of some very sure-footed donkeys and brought down to the wash to be crushed, processed, and smelted. 

According to mindat.org, the Buena Vista Mine is a former small underground copper, lead, silver, gold, zinc and molybdenum mine, 3.5 miles north of the border. It was first located by Michael Maloney in 1895 and then worked on and off until 1958. There are supposed to be 4000 feet of workings in three tunnels and connecting passages between levels of the mine called winzes. Buena Vista produced 850 tons of ore averaging 3% copper and one ounce of silver per ton. 850 tons is an awful lot of man and donkey power.

On this day I am determined to find the shaft through which all this overburden passed. A further scramble of a hundred yards up a steep angled pile of loose rocks is necessary.

As I climb, I am thinking about writing this piece and how the future of writing has grown more precarious because of the advent of ChatGPT from a company named Open AI. That’s “A” as in artificial, “I” as in intelligence. Their algorithm crawls the web and trains itself to generate human-like speech patterns. In a 1950 paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” Alan Turing, the British mathematician, proposed a simple test for determining whether machines could think. The test consists of three players, two of which are human and one of which is a computer. The computer and one of the humans converse back and forth via text. The second human can only observe the text and must make the determination of which side of the text is being generated by the computer. When the two sides cannot be distinguished the machine can be said to exhibit intelligent behavior. 

I tried ChatGPT and it passed the Keith test. I typed in a prompt and asked for a 750-word essay about rockhounding in the Patagonia Mountains and asked it to include a story about an encounter with a snake. It almost instantly returned a very nice piece of writing. Grammatically correct and insightful. 750 words on the nose.

I am elated when I finally gain the top of the pile and espy a horizontal adit. Some rocks have been gobbed up at the entrance, but one could still crawl in if determined enough. I do not want to enter but I’ve brought a small flashlight and wish to stick my head and shoulders in to catch a glimpse of where work – serious work – was done in the past.

As I pull the flashlight from my pocket I hear a sound, faint at first but then rising. I wonder what sort of bush is making a sound like a cicada as the wind has begun to pick up. When I refocus on the entrance, I see that there is a coiled rattler watching me, ready to strike. Immediately, his thoughts jump into my head. He is telling me to back the heck up, or something a little more salty. Which I do. 

I’m not certain what the future holds but if this human writing thing ever becomes irrelevant. I guess I can always fall back on a career as an animal communicator. But that’s another story.