Archive for the ‘Socorro’ category

Sticky: Civil War Reenactment

June 21st, 2011

Civil War reenactment groups from around the state participate in the annual “Battle of Socorro” – simulating the Battle of Valverde and the Confederate capture of Socorro.  It is held every year on the weekend closest to February 21, the date of the historic battle, in Socorro, New Mexico and the nearby village of Escondida.

Brig. Gen. Henry H. Sibley led his force of 2,500 men across the Rio Grande River and up the east side of the river to the ford at Valverde, north of Fort Craig, New Mexico, hoping to cut Federal communications between the fort and military headquarters in Santa Fe. Union Col. E.R.S. Canby left Fort Craig with more than 3,000 men to prevent the Confederates from crossing the river. When he was opposite them, across the river, Canby opened fire and sent Union cavalry over, forcing the Rebels back. The Confederates halted their retirement at the Old Rio Grande riverbed, which served as an excellent position. After crossing all his men, Canby decided that a frontal assault would fail and deployed his force to assault and turn the Confederate left flank. Before he could do so, though, the Rebels attacked. Federals rebuffed a cavalry charge, but the main Confederate force made a frontal attack, capturing six artillery pieces and forcing the Union battle line to break and many of the men to flee. Canby ordered a retreat.

Confederate reinforcements arrived and Sibley was about to order another attack when Canby asked for a truce, by a white flag, to remove the bodies of the dead and wounded. Left in possession of the battlefield, the Confederates claimed victory but had suffered heavy casualties. Although the Confederates would soon occupy Santa Fe, they would have to leave New Mexico within four months.

Behind the Scenes with Richard: El Camino Real

January 9th, 2010

Imagine taking a 1500 mile walk from Mexico City to Santa Fe (or visa versa).  Something you would want to do?  Well after “exploring” this 7-month “hike” I can tell you it is not something I would look forward to doing but thousands of people did over a couple of centuries to find new homes and a new life in Northern New Mexico.

The “Royal Road” was in use long before Columbus landed in North America and was fraught with hardship and death.  Stretches of this amazing highway, which was a primary trade route between South and North America, were so thick with brush that clothes were torn, shoes destroyed and animals injured. Long stretches were void of water.  It wasn’t an easy hike but people continued this long walk until the railroads entered the scene in the mid-1800’s and shortened the trip from months to days and offered a ride in what was then the lap of luxury.

We stopped at the new International Heritage Center located just off Exit 115 of I-25 and received our first glimpse into what life must have been like way back when.  This is a fascinating new addition to New Mexico’s Department of Cultural Affairs and a place that really gives you a chance to look back in time and explore life a couple hundred years ago and even further back.  You can’t see this new building from the highway but the signs make it an easy trip.

Just north up the Frontage Road is Fort Craig.  I’ve always been intrigued by our early fortifications and was really interested in seeing what remains of one of New Mexico’s Civil War battle places.  The South was heading for California to find gold to help finance their portion of the war and the North was ready to stop the trip.  What the Northern troops (both regular army and volunteer’s number over 2,000 strong) did to “discourage” the Southern troops with actual weapons and slight of eye is really amazing.  This was not a place you wanted to be stationed.  Wool uniforms in the summer were incredibly hot and the cold winters along the Rio Grande made this a less than desirable post.   While there, be sure and ask about the huge food storage bunkers that were uncovered … and the thousands of rations of rice stored there.  Rice?   Yes, I asked the same question … how did it get there and why so much?  You’ll have to get those answers yourself.

Staying on the Frontage Road just a few miles north you’ll drive right into Bosque del Apache …one of those magical places you want to see at dawn or dusk when the wildlife … especially the birds … are flying in and out.  And I’m talking thousands and thousands of birds … not just your backyard variety either. Mid-November is prime bird watching time for Snow Geese and Sand Hill cranes not to mention Bald Eagles and hawks, too.  Four footed critters, as you might imagine, are also present.  I had no idea what I was in for when people started telling me about the annual crane migration but I have to say that this is one spectacular (director, Chuck, and producer, Frank tell me I use that word too much but it does describe what you’ll see) place to be year round … and if it is easier for you, you can stay right in your car and not miss a thing while you take in all the sights and sounds.

Behind the Scenes at the Bosque Del Apache

Behind the Scenes at the Bosque Del Apache

San Antonio is next along the Frontage Road and just a couple miles north of the Bosque.  I love San Antonio … and here’s why.  Two great green chile cheeseburger places … the Owl Café, home of the original green chile cheeseburger, and the Buckhorn Tavern, home of another great green chile cheeseburger. Both have received their fair share of national attention and it’s tough to decide which is best so don’t count on me telling you which one you need to try.  Do what I did … have them both and make sure you add green chile cheese fries to your order.  Come on … it’s not like you’re treating yourself to these delicious delicacies seven days a week!

Next to the Owl and across the street from the Buckhorn is a quaint little gas station that just happens to have the best home made fudge I’ve ever eaten.  Multiple flavors and I’ll bet you won’t leave with just one piece of one kind.  You’ll be sampling and loading up.  Another reason to forget your diet and waistline for a couple hours!

These three unique stops make San Antonio one of those places we always make plans to spend time while traveling north or south on I-25.

Socorro lies directly on the El Camino Real and was a major stop along the way to Santa Fe.  We actually spent three days in Socorro using it as our base of operations while we traveled in all four directions to check out all the things above and many other sights.  Check out our Socorro videos for more info on what you can see heading west out of Socorro … and our Socorro TV show, which will air again over the next few months.  We have great memories of getting after hours help fixing a flat tire there and how gracious the Mayor and the Convention and Visitors Bureau folks were to us.  A great little city along the Royal Road!

Next it was off to Old Town where you can truly imagine what Albuquerque was like when the Rio Grande really was the Rio Grande!  I can’t imagine too many of us who live in New Mexico who haven’t visited … and spent time in this great place that is such a huge part of our heritage here.

And the same applies to Santa Fe where the Royal Road ended for us.  We had a great tour of the Palace of the Governor’s and I had to take a few minutes to imagine what Lew Wallace, one of our early governors, was thinking when he wrote the epic novel, Ben Hur!  And he didn’t even know Charlton Heston when he wrote the book!!!  Moving on … the brand new New Mexico History Museum that opened in 2009 is next door to the Palace of the Governor’s are these are two places you can spend hours tracing New Mexico’s history from the earliest days of Spanish and Native American inhabitants through today’s modern settlers.  The History Museum is a very powerful 3 ½ floors of what we were yesterday and what we are today.

Behind the Scenes at the New Mexico History Museum

Behind the Scenes at the New Mexico History Museum

Why the Royal Road?  Primarily trade and the search for gems and gold.  Turquoise, silver and gold both have been sought after for hundreds of years.  And early pioneers from Mexico took the El Camino Real to seek their fortunes.

Take the journey to New Mexico’s Royal Road with your family and you’ll find more wealth than you ever imagined.  I know I did!

Travel Guide NEW MEXICO visits the Bosque del Apache

December 11th, 2009
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Bosque del Apache is Spanish for “woods of the Apache,” and is rooted in the time when the Spanish observed Apaches routinely camped in the riverside forest. Since then, the name has come to mean one of the most spectacular National Wildlife Refuges in North America. Here, tens of thousands of birds–including sandhill cranes, Arctic geese, and many kinds of ducks–gather each autumn and stay through the winter. Feeding snow geese erupt in explosions of wings when frightened by a stalking coyote, and at dusk, flight after flight of geese and cranes return to roost in the marshes.

In the summer Bosque del Apache lives its quiet, green life as an oasis in the arid lands that surround it.  The Refuge is 57,191 acres located along the Rio Grande near Socorro, New Mexico.The Refuge is located at the northern edge of the Chihuahuan desert, and straddles the Rio Grande, approximately 20 miles south of Socorro, New Mexico. The heart of the Refuge is about 12,900 acres of moist bottomlands–3,800 acres are active floodplain of the Rio Grande and 9,100 acres are areas where water is diverted to create extensive wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests. The rest of Bosque del Apache NWR is made up of arid foothills and mesas, which rise to the Chupadera Mountains on the west and the San Pascual Mountains on the east. Most of these desert lands are preserved as wilderness areas.

Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bosque del Apache NWR is an important link in the more than 500 refuges in North America. The goal of refuge management is to provide habitat and protection for migratory birds and endangered species and provide the public with a high quality wildlife and educational experience.

The Bosque del Apache Visitors Center hours are M-F 7:30-4:00, Weekends: 8 -4:30.  There is a tour loop open daily, 1 hour before sunrise – 1 hour after sunset.

Travel Guide visits San Antonio

October 14th, 2009
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San Antonio at the junction of US 380 and one mile east of I-25 is the only one listed on the current New Mexico map. It is located ten miles south of Socorro and ten miles north of the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge.

The post office was established in 1870, and is still in existence. The site of this village may date back as far as 1600. Two friars established a mission at the Piro Indian Pueblo, but after the Pueblo revolt of 1680, people left. Floods, pot hunting and recycling of materials makes it very difficult to establish exactly where the pueblo may have existed.

At about the time the post office was established, northern Hispanic settlers began to resettle there, and they kept the name San Antonio. These settlers raised grain, beans, chile, onions and grapes, and the Atcheson Topeka and the Santa Fe Railroad established a station there. The railroad was soon hauling alfalfa, wine, coal and coke. It was the advent of the railroad that ultimately gave the community its fame. Conrad Hiltons father arrived here in the 1880s and opened a store. He was later to become known as The merchant king of San Antonio, as he also established a stage line to White Oaks, a then-mining town eighty miles to the east. He and his wife opened their home as a hotel, and it was here that Conrad had his first hotel experience.

Today the Hilton family home, at Sixth and Main Street, is in ruins. The Owl Bar, a tourist stopover and meeting place for locals, contains the bar from the old Crystal Palace. The bar is listed on the State Historical and Cultural Properties . The old Crystal Palace still stands on Main Street but is not open to the public. The coal, wine and crops are gone, but San Antonio, New Mexico, still exists.

Very Large Array (VLA) Video

October 1st, 2009
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The Very Large Array (VLA) comprises 27 radio telescopes in a Y pattern spread across the plains of San Agustin 50 miles west of Socorro. The VLA has been used by more astronomers and has been mentioned in more scientific papers than any other radio telescope in the world. Each antenna is an 82-foot diameter dish that weighs 230 tons.

The on-site visitor center and gift shop offers displays and videos that educate about radio astronomy and the VLA telescope, and are open all year from 8:30 a.m. to sunset. A self-guided tour lets visitors explore the antennas up close. (575) 835-7000.

Learn more about visiting the Very Large Array here.

Travel Guide Visits Socorro

September 30th, 2009
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Socorro residents have chosen not only for its small town quality of life, but also for its sense of community pride and spirit, a low crime rate and a low cost of living.

Everyone from young families to retired couples find Socorro the ideal place to call home whether it’s the charm of a restored home set along tree-lined streets and avenues, efficiency homes, or a ranch or farm in the country, Socorro has the “Home Sweet Home” feeling you’ve been looking for

Mineral Museum in Socorro

September 30th, 2009
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Upon the campus of the lies one of the great treasure troves of the southwest. Gold, silver, and precious gems, the objects of the Conquistador’s travels and travails, glitter on glass shelves next to other spectacular mineral forms. This El Dorado was given the honorary title “Coronado’s Treasure Chest” by the New Mexico Cuarto-Centennial Commission in 1939.

The mineral museum can trace its origins back to the very beginnings of the New Mexico School of Mines in 1889. The collection was assembled to help in the education of engineers and geologists. It was soon built into one of the finest in the world, winning gold medals at the St. Louis World’s Fair 1904 and the Panama-California exhibition of 1915. Three thousand mineral specimens in 1938 have grown to over 15,000. Coronado’s Treasure Chest is still renowned as can be seen at invited exhibitions at the Denver and Tucson Gem and Mineral Shows and featured articles in mineralogical magazines from around the world.

Fort Craig in Socorro

September 30th, 2009
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Fort Craig, established in 1854, was one of the largest and most important frontier forts in the West. Set in the rugged beauty of Socorro County, N.M., it was one of the eight forts situated along the primary north-south road in the Rio Grande Valley. Fort Craig played a crucial role in Indian campaigns and the Civil War. Military excursions from Fort Craig pursued such notable Apache leaders as Geronimo, Victorio and Nana. The Fort has a rich multicultural history, full of stories of courage, honor and sacrifice.

The Fort was home to Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry and 38th and 125th Infantry, the predominantly Hispanic New Mexico Volunteers and New Mexico Militia, and household names like Kit Carson, Rafael Chacón and Captain Jack Crawford.

Fort Craig played a significant role in 19th-century New Mexico history. The fort was situated on El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (the Royal Road to the Interior Lands) – the 1,200-mile Spanish colonial trail from Mexico City to Santa Fe. This road served as New Mexico’s lifeline with Mexico for 223 years and was recognized in 2000 as a National Historic Trail.

In the mid-1800s the New Mexico territory was crossed by a large number of trails. Located along the travel routes were numerous military forts, designed to protect travelers and settlers. These outposts played a key role in the settlement of the American frontier.

Fort Craig was host to the largest U.S. Civil War battle in the Southwest.

It was was the epicenter of a battle that involved thousands of Union and Confederate troops, many of them New Mexico volunteers under the command of Kit Carson. Troops from Fort Craig included companies of Buffalo Soldiers who were garrisoned here while involved in struggles with Native Americans deemed at the time to be hostile.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Fort Craig remained a Union Army Post manned by regular army troops. In 1862, troops under the command of General H.H. Sibley continued up the Rio Grande after capturing military installations to the south. On February 21, 1862, Sibley’s troops engaged Union troops led by Colonel R.S. Canby. The Battle of Valverde took place upstream from Fort Craig at Valverde Crossing. Although many consider the battle to have been a Confederate victory, Union forces succeeded in holding the fort and half of the Confederate’s supply wagons were destroyed. The loss of the remaining supplies at the Battle of Glorieta, east of Santa Fe, on March 28, 1862, forced the Confederates to retreat to Texas and ended Southern aspirations for military conquest in the West.

After the Civil War, troops stationed at the fort resumed their attempts to control Indian raiding. By the late 1870s, these efforts began to succeed and the surrounding valley prospered under military protection. The fort was temporarily closed from 1878 to 1880 and, because the fort’s military function was no longer necessary, the fort was permanently abandoned in 1885. Nine years later, Fort Craig was sold at auction to the Valverde Land and Irrigation Company, the only bidder. The property was eventually donated to The Archaeological Conservancy by the Oppenheimer family Fort Craig is about 35 miles south of Socorro. Take I-25 to the San Marcial Exit, then east over the Interstate, and south on old Highway 1 (about 11 miles). Then follow the signs to Fort Craig and was transferred to the Bureau of Land Management in 1981. The site is a BLM Special Management Area and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visit for more information.

Ed Note: Thanks to Michael E. Pitel for contacting us with regard to Fort Craig history. His comments to us follow:

The site of the largest Civil War battle in New Mexico wasn’t Fort Craig.

It was at what was then known as Valverde Crossing, a ford on the Rio Grande a few miles north of Fort Craig, whose troops were involved in the Feb., 1862, engagement.  The Texas Confederate victory became known as the Battle of Valverde.  Today that remote battlefield, on the east bank of the river, is buried beneath 20-25 feet of river silt at the upper end of Elephant Butte Lake.

Frank T. Etscorn Campus Observatory

September 30th, 2009
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The Frank T. Etscorn Campus Observatory, dedicated 25 April 1993, is on the campus of New Mexico Tech in Socorro, NM. The observatory is one of the sites of the annual Enchanted Skies Star Party (ESSP). In addition, many public and private star parties are held there throughout the year.  The observatory is surrounded by earth berms and is strategically located to avoid as much light pollution as possible from campus and town.

Several telescopes are available for use at the observatory, the most noteworthy ones including a 20-inch Dobsonian inside a 15-foot dome, and a Celestron 14 on a Paramount GT-1100 mount.

Learn more about visiting the Frank T. Etscorn Campus Observatory right here.

Discover Socorro, City of Aid

August 16th, 2009

Harkening back to the late 1500’s, Onate’s Spanish conquistadores were close to death from traveling the Jornada del Muerto on the Camino Real. They stumbled across this location then inhabited by Pira Indians. Upon receiving life-saving assistance from these Pueblo Indians, the Spaniards immediately so-named it Socorro (Spanish for ‘aid’). It has retained this original name to this day.

el-camino-real-centerHistory is still alive in Socorro and can be walked, touched, and experienced throughout this city. A walking tour of historic Socorro Plaza and 400 year-old San Miguel Mission Church and Garcia Opera House along with many other sites is offered by The Historical Society. Just down the highway a bit, a tribute to the Spanish heritage of this state is showcased at El Camino Real International Heritage Center.

Rich in mining history, Socorro abounds with both modern and old time mining experiences, including New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and mining museums. Nearby on White Sands Missile Range, Trinity Site stands as a testimonial to the atomic bomb era.

Outdoor enthusiasts can also revel in the Socorro area. Birdwatchers and photographers flock to this area for the spectacular array of viewing at the wildlife refuges. Hikers, bikers and travelers can enjoy the scenic byways and parks. A visit to the Socorro area is sure to provide much needed aid and a refreshing experience for modern day explorers as well as its historic explorers.

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