The town of Socorro, population about 9,000, traces its roots back to the earliest Spanish expeditions into New Mexico when explorer Juan de Oñate established a permanent settlement along the Rio Grande in 1598. Native Americans provided corn for the expedition, inspiring Oñate to give the community a name that means succor, or help. The San Miguel Mission church was established in 1628, but Spanish settlement was virtually erased during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and did not reestablish itself until 1816. If not for this early and lengthy period of dormancy in the area, the city might have been the capital of New Mexico, with its prime location in a large, fertile valley, amid then-thriving pueblos, abundant water sources, and tremendous mineral wealth.
Socorro's business district now occupies historic buildings that surround its sleepy square, which has a park with a gazebo and a plaque commemorating the arrival of Juan de Oñate. The town's claim to fame is the highly regarded New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (now more commonly called New Mexico Tech) founded in 1893 as the New Mexico School of Mines—though, unfortunately, the student population doesn't translate into town vibrancy or any sort of nightlife. The institution's original specialties were chemistry and metallurgy, but along with scientific research now there are programs in medicine, engineering, and business.