Just a little over an hour south of Albuquerque, Socorro, New Mexico is a destination in and of itself, but is also a great place to visit on the way to nearby attractions. Socorro is about 75 miles south of Albuquerque and is easily reachable via I-25. Socorro has a small town feel, but has restaurants, brew pubs, and entertainment as you would expect to find in a college town.
Socorro was known as a stopping place when families moved north from Mexico with Don Juan de Onate in 1598. Onate's expedition was met by the Piro-speaking native inhabitants of the Teypana Pueblo, who communicated their welcome, and gave them corn. The Teypana people gave Onate corn, so he renamed the pueblo Socorro, which is Spanish for aid, or to give succor. The pueblo no longer remains, but the nearby ruins of the Gran Quivira Pueblo are testament to the pueblos that once were in the area. Gran Quivira is one of the three pueblos found at the nearby Salinas Mission National Monument. The remains of a 17th century Franciscan mission and the pueblos of Abo, Quarai and Gran Quivira.
History abounds in the area. The San Miguel Mission is located in Socorro, a reminder of the area's storied past. Spanish families lived and worked around the mission, along with the native puebloans. Nearby Fort Craig was established in 1854 as a safeguard against Apache and Navajo raids. Its ruins lie about 35 miles south of Socorro.
Socorro's history is deep, but it also offers nearby attractions that bring science and nature lovers to it from around the world.
Socorro is home to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, or as it is more commonly referred to, New Mexico Tech. Tech is the New Mexico's engineering university, specializing in science and engineering. Many of New Mexico's top high school students go to Tech, which is ranked a top public school in the west. Tech also is ranked consistently as one of the top 10 engineering programs nationally. It is also a great value, which draws students from many other states. A worthwhile place to visit while in Socorro is New Mexico Tech's Etscorn Observatory. The observatory has a 20-inch Dobsonian telescope, and every first Saturday of the month, it hosts a star party, where visitors can look through the telescope at celestial objects. Every October, the Enchanted Skies Star Party includes tours to the Etscorn, which is also called the Magdalena Ridge Observatory. New Mexico is known for its clear, dark skies, which allow viewers to see Saturn, the moon, the stars and other objects with great clarity.
Socorro is a focal point for anyone interested in astronomy. Socorro is a good launching point for visiting the Very Large Array, or VLA, which is about 50 miles west of town. The large, iconic white radio dishes that were made famous in the movie Contact, which starred Jodie Foster, are used to explore the skies by using radio waves. The VLA has a visitor center, and self-guided walking tours can be taken at your leisure. There are guided tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Another nearby attraction that is open year round but draws many to it in the fall, is the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Migrating birds fly through on their way north in spring, and south in fall, creating enormous displays for bird lovers. Each November, the Festival of Cranes draws visitors to observe the annual migration of the sandhill cranes. Wildlife photographers, birders, nature lovers and those who are curious descend on the refuge to see the birds as they flock along the Rio Grande and feed in the fields and bosque.
Another nearby refuge, the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, is about 230,000 acres and contains a wide array of biological diversity. The Rio Grande flows through the refuge's center and creates an oasis for wildlife. The refuge offers hiking trails, wetlands, and riparian areas as well as birding and wildlife observation. The refuge participates in the Christmas Bird Count, which is a fun activity for the entire family.
The San Lorenzo Canyon Recreation Area also offers hiking. The canyon has arches, rock formations and shelter caves to explore and remnants of ranches and homesteads. The area is about five miles north of Socorro. Hike the canyons to enjoy spectacular southwestern scenery, or settle in with primitive camping.