Socorro, New Mexico is a small town along Interstate 25, about an hour south of Albuquerque. It has enough small-town charm to make it a worthwhile stretch-your-legs stop during a drive across the state.
I needed to drive all the way through New Mexico, from Albuquerque to Silver City, and then on into Arizona. It was going to be a long day, for sure, but after just one hour on the road, I decided it was time for a break, so I turned off the highway into Socorro, New Mexico.
Socorro has the kind of town square you’d expect in a small southwestern town. It’s located one block west of California Street, via Manzaneres Avenue.
The most interesting business on the town square is the Capitol Bar. It’s been open since 1896, when two Italian immigrants built the business as a place to sell their wine. The Capitol Bar was one of 30 saloons in town at the time — back when Socorro was the biggest city in the New Mexico Territory. It’s the only one that survived until now.
The Capitol Bar has some nice ghost signs painted on its brick walls. Drive across California Street…
… and you’ll find a few more.
A handful of historic storefronts line up along Manzaneras Street, in between the business route and the I-25 overpass.
In this area, you’ll find the Loma Theater. Just a couple of weeks after my visit, in mid-March, 2014, the Loma shut down. It was unable to purchase a digital projector, and the distributor that provided the old-fashioned film reels could no longer supply them. The original Loma Theater opened in Socorro in 1937, and it moved to the current location in 1958.
On this side of town, there’s some nice neon, including this sign for the Valverde Hotel.
The Valverde is purported to be haunted. It was built in 1919, and there have been ten deaths in the building – five were suicides, the other five were workmen, burned to death by the building’s boiler, located under the bar. In the past, bartenders have reported hearing thumping noises from under the floor.
I don’t think the Valverde is open for overnight guests anymore. There were people around, leading me to believe that it is now used as an apartment building.
You might expect Socorro would have a giant “S” atop Socorro Peak, the big mountain on the edge of town. Instead, it has a massive “M”. The letter probably stands for “mining” or “minerals”, and it probably appeared in the late 1910’s, although there’s some debate about its origins and history. The “M” is claimed by New Mexico Tech, formerly the New Mexico School of Mines.
A couple of New Mexico’s most interesting attractions are near Socorro.
About 49 miles west of Socorro on US 60, you’ll find some very familiar-looking satellite dishes. In fact, they are something quite different: these dishes are part of a giant radio telescope, known as the Very Large Array. You’ve probably seen them on TV commercials, or in the movie Contact. The dishes are moved along giant railroad tracks, and at times, they are very close together, giving you the chance to see several of them in one picture. I visited the VLA back in 2006.
A half-hour drive south and east from Socorro will take you past the White Sands Missile Range. The world’s first atomic bomb was successfully detonated here, at a place called the Trinity Site. Since the Trinity Site is located deep within a military base, you can’t just drive in and see it whenever you’re in the area. But, two days a year, the public is allowed to drive onto the base, and walk around the blast site. I was fortunate enough to be in the area on one of those access days, back in 2006.
If you need an excuse to detour off of Interstate 25, Socorro provides an interesting distraction. Walk around downtown and enjoy its wild-west small-town feel.
Socorro is located in central New Mexico, south of Albuquerque, at the crossroads of Interstate 25 and US 60. You can access downtown Socorro via California Street, which is also Business 25.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Albuquerque to Socorro…
… and from Socorro to Truth or Consequences: