Socorro also is home to New Mexico Tech University, which evolved out of the School of Mines. It is one of American education’s best-kept secrets. Its departments in lightning research, explosives/technology, all petroleum hydrocarbon studies (geology/engineering/geophysics), hydrology, astrophysics and anti-terrorism technology rival any in the country—at much less expensive tuition rates! Check out the beautiful campus with its duck pond, gorgeous golf course, famous Estcorn Observatory and fascinating Mineral Museum.
Small wonder then, that the national Very Large Array, one of the world's premier astronomical radio observatories, which consists of twenty-seven 25-meter-diameter radio antennas in a Y-shaped configuration, is located on the Plains of San Agustin 50 miles west of Socorro.
Enchanting Socorro—the small city with a wonderful name—is a treasure among New Mexico destinations. Its vibrant present reflects its history as well as the energy of our times.
Socorro means “help,” as in succor, which is what the Spanish settlers led by the pioneer Don Juan de Oñate in 1598 received from the Piro Indians in the region after traversing a section of the Nuevo Mejico trail so arid and mean that the conquistadores had given it the name Jornada del Muerte, journey of the death. In the little valley by the Rio Grande these travelers found succor, so Oñate ordered some settlers to remain there and establish an oasis/outpost, 22 years before the Mayflower landed on the east coast.
The adobe mission church they started building in 1615, San Miguel, reflected their sense of gratitude. They first named it Our Lady of Help, but after a mysterious stranger saved it, and the cowering settlers inside, from some insurrectionist rowdies in the 18th century, they decided they’d received divine intercession from the Archangel Michael and changed the name. In a particularly serendipitous moment in time, descendants of those helpful Piro Indians danced at a re-consecration last year after a $1.1 million, four-year restoration job.
Socorro is an outdoor-recreation haven. Escondido Lake and Park offers fishing and camping, RV hookups, tent sites, bathrooms and potable water. Box Canyon Recreation Area is a popular site for camping, hiking, and rock climbing. Elephant Butte Dam and its recreation sites are to the south. The annual USAT-sanctioned Chile Harvest Triathlon has a growing reputation among triathletes and is slated this year for Aug. 8. It begins with a sprint race and a youth race on Friday, Aug. 7, and the adult triathlon, which kicks off at the city pool on Saturday.
Of ornithological interest is the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, with bird and wildlife viewing opportunities, where thousands of sandhill cranes (and the occasional whoopers), snow geese, bald eagles and other birds overwinter in fields and marshes each year. The Festival of the Cranes in just before Thanksgiving in November celebrates the arrival of the “birds of heaven” with guided tours, unparalleled photography opportunities and lectures. Bosque del Apache is a true conservation success story. In 2009, the count of sandhill cranes overwintering at the refuge topped 17,000, compared to the inaugural count in 1940 of 17. For the wild birds of North America, Socorro also is an oasis.
If that’s not enough, Socorro, right in the middle of the state and an easy commute to Albuquerque to the north and Las Cruces to the south, also is garnering an increasing awareness among collectors as an arts-and-crafts town. The state El Camino Real Heritage Center, to the south on I-25 between Socorro and Truth or Consequences, recalls early Spanish colonial times. El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro –The Royal Road to the Interior Lands—was the official “Road from Spain” bringing the first colonists to the region beginning in 1598. The emigrant trail brought thousands of Spanish and Mexican colonists to New Mexico until the arrival of the railroad in the late 19th century. The roots of the unique culture, history and people of New Mexico are in the Camino Real. El Camino Real is a National Historic Trail. The historic trail museum contains award-winning exhibits and artifacts presenting the history and heritage of the trail, and life in Mexico and New Mexico during the colonial era.
Socorro really is a year-round destination for the celebration of all that is best in New Mexico!