Socorro — an uncommon place

Socorro’s Downtown Plaza. Photo by Carla DeMarco
Socorro's Downtown Plaza.

Socorro, a community of 9,000 in the sunny Rio Grande Valley, is the seat of Socorro County. While it is distinguished by history as one of the oldest settlements in the Southwest, its present and discernable future is based on the technology of tomorrow.

The name “Socorro” means “refuge” and dates back to 1598 when the people of the Pilabo Pueblo fed and sheltered weary members of the Juan de Onate expeditions that passed through on their way to establish a colony near Santa Fe.

The Spaniards built a church nearby which in 1627 was expanded into the San Miguel Mission. The present San Miguel Mission was built from 1819 to 1821 on the ruins of the earlier mission.

Socorro remained an agricultural center until the 1880′s when the Santa Fe Railroad arrived and extensive mining became possible. By 1886, when Socorro was incorporated, it had become the state’s largest town. By the 1890′s mining had declined and Socorro once again returned to is agricultural heritage. Many people moved away, leaving behind a legacy of Victorian homes.

In 1889 the New Mexico School of Mines (now called New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology) was established in Socorro. To this day, it remains one of the state’s leading centers for education and research. New Mexico Tech, as it’s called, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory may be the biggest reasons Socorro is home to one of the states’ highest percentages of Ph.D.s per capita.

In World War II Socorro benefited from atomic bomb testing at the nearby White Sands Missile Range. Today’s economy is still fed by such federal and state activities as the Very Large Array and Very Long Baseline Array radio telescopes which listen vigilantly skyward for intergalactic transmissions.

With its temperate climate and low rainfall, the Socorro area is well suited for outdoors explorations. Nearby, the Magdalena Mountains offer hiking, camping, fishing, hunting and rock climbing. The Gila National Forest is about two hours southwest. Skiing is as close as Albuquerque.

The Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge lies just 18 miles from Socorro. Here greater sandhill cranes and arctic geese winter among thousands of ducks and other birds. Over 325 species of reptiles and amphibians make the refuge their home or migrate through at different times of the year.

Socorro itself boasts the Macey Center where New Mexico Tech’s Performing Arts Series takes place. The Mineral Museum contains specimens from around the world. Parks, athletic fields, tennis courts, horse shoe pits, playgrounds, an 18-hole golf course and an Olympic size pool are available for recreational pleasure.