Socorro, New Mexico

County Seat of Socorro County

The city of Socorro – the Spanish word for succor or assistance – lies on Interstate 25, 75 miles south of Albuquerque, in the fertile Rio Grande valley. When Spanish colonists traveling north through the area under the leadership of Don Juan de Oñate arrived at the Pueblo village called Teypana, they were welcomed by the Indians and given a large gift of corn. The grateful immigrants bestowed the name of Socorro on the place.

The town is the county seat of Socorro County, the third largest in New Mexico. It not only serves a wide ranging agricultural and ranching community, it is also the home of New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, widely-known as New Mexico Tech. The campus serves as the home base of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which operates the Very Large Array radio telescopes on the Plains of San Augustin. Socorro also hosts the thousands of visitors to the nearby Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge.

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  • Population – 9000
  • Elevation – 4579 feet
  • Climate - mild, dry
  • Annual Average Temperature - 58 degrees
  • Annual Average Rainfall - 9 inches
  • Annual Average Snowfall - 6 inches
  • Average Percent Relative Humidity - 42 percent
  • Sunshine - 90 percent of year


For 100 years after Oñate’s expedition passed in 1598, Socorro became a way station on El Camino Real – the Royal Road – which led from El Paso del Norte to Santa Fe and the Spanish-claimed territories to the north. During the 1600's, the Spanish built four missions among the Piro Pueblos, including one in Socorro. Spanish families surrounded the mission, farming and raising livestock on land given them as large land grants.

In 1680, when the Pueblo Revolt broke out in northern New Mexico, driving the Spanish colonists out of New Mexico Territory, the Teypanas left also, establishing a new community farther south. Nothing remains of the pueblo which offered succor to the Oñate expedition. Socorro was not re-settled until 1816.


In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain. The New Mexico Territory received this news belatedly and celebrated with a show of enthusiasm. For many years, however, New Mexico was a neglected appendage to the new nation of Mexico. Life in Socorro remained the same hard-scrabble frontier effort it had always been. The farmers and stockmen were beleaguered by Indian raids, disease and, when crops failed, hunger.

The citizens of Socorro County became Americans in 1841, when General Stephen Watts Kearny entered Santa Fe and occupied the territory in the name of the United States. In 1854, Fort Craig was built south of Socorro to protect the area against Apache and Navajo raids and to protect the northern end of El Camino Real. With the outbreak of the Civil War, the fort remained a Union Army Post. Today, the remains of the fort are open to visitors from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. The site has interpretive signs and a campsite. In this harsh terrain, a sensitive tourist will gain a new appreciation of the hardiness of the early settlers.

With the coming of the railroad in the 1880’s, miners, merchants and cattlemen arrived in Socorro County from the eastern states. Mines in the area added to the importance of the town. Smelters opened. Socorro had a grain mill and a brewery. California mission-style homes were built among the adobe buildings of the boom town.

World War II increased activity in Socorro County, and an incident of historical importance to most New Mexicans occurred in San Antonio. Frank Chavez opened a small restaurant in his store and created the first chile hamburger at the Owl Bar and Café. Word-of-mouth says these are the best hamburgers in New Mexico, and knowledgeable travelers on Interstate 25 adjust their schedules in order to reach San Antonio and the restaurant at lunch time.

Another event during World War II – momentous to the entire world – was the first atomic blast, in 1945 at the Trinity Site east of Socorro. A large piece of steel from the experiment rests in the downtown plaza of Socorro. The site is now a monument, open for public tours twice a year.

The acclaim accorded to New Mexico Tech for its advances in mining, engineering, geology and other sciences has drawn major research facilities to the area. In addition to serving as the headquarters for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array, the campus provides a home for the lightning research facility of Langmuir Lab. Tech’s golf course is on the list of ten best public courses in New Mexico.


Things To Do

Take a walking tour of historic Socorro, visiting San Miguel Mission, the downtown plaza with its beautifully preserved buildings and the Knights of Pythias Hall building and the Val Verde Hotel. Play golf on New Mexico Tech’s golf course. Visit the Mineral Museum on the Tech campus; it contains the largest mineral collection in New Mexico. Drive eight miles south to San Antonio, eat the best hamburger in New Mexico, then drive east to the flashing traffic signal, turn right, and drive south nine miles to the always interesting Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Drive the refuge roads and observe snow geese, sandhill cranes and whooping cranes in the winter months. See blue heron, American coot, American kestrel and the Neotropic Cormorant, among many others, all year. Walk the refuge nature trail and see foxes, coyotes, deer and other denizens of the refuge. Farther east, visit the ruins of a great trade center of the Salinas Pueblos, including Gran Quivira, Abo and Quarai. Fish in nearby Escondida Lake, rock climb in Box Canyon, camp in the nearby Cibola National Forest, mountain bike or walk on forest trails. Drive 27 miles west to Magdalena and rock hound at old mine sites. Continue west 12 miles for a walking tour of the Very Large Array radio telescope.


There are motels and bed-and-breakfasts in all price ranges, and there are many camping and RV accommodations in or near Socorro. Click Here. (Rates, availability and reservations online)

Nearby Cities & Towns

Albuquerque _ 75 miles north
San Antonio _ 8 miles south
Truth or Consequences _ 72 miles south
Belen _ 48 miles north

National Forests, Wildlife Refuges, and National Monuments

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge _ 17 miles south
Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge _ 20 miles north
Cibola National Forest _ 20 miles west
Very Large Array _ 50 miles west
Gran Quivira (one of the Salinas Pueblo Missions) _ 75 miles northeast

Resources & Nearby Attractions

New Mexico Tech’s 18-hole golf course
El Camino Heritage Center
Etscorn Campus Observatory
Mineral Museum
Escondida Lake
The Socorro Mission
San Miguel Mission
Hammel Brewery and Museum

Additional Information

Socorro County Chamber of Commerce
Box 743
Socorro, NM 87801

Bosque del Apache NWR
Box 1246
Socorro, NM 87801

National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Very Large Array Radio Telescope
Array Operations Center
P. O. Box 0
Socorro, New Mexico 87801

Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument
P. O. Box 517
Mountainair, New Mexico 87036-0517



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