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Wildlife refuges, recreation areas draw adventurers to Socorro

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An hour south of Albuquerque, Socorro offers a range of outdoor activities appealing to the adventurer who likes to tackle the environment or one who prefers a less-strenuous approach to enjoying nature.

When it comes to the latter, the 230,000-acre Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge ( is a delightful experience in an area where Chihuahuan Desert collides with the Great Plains grasslands. Its a land of biodiversity that draws migrating birds – which are now beginning their flights south – as well as a wildlife corridor straddling the Rio Grande.

Bordering on the refuge in a shared-management situation, San Lorenzo Canyon, offers a living geologic history lesson where sandstone and mudstone formations make for interesting viewing and great photography.

The nearby Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex contains four wildlife management areas in Valencia and Socorro counties, namely Bernardo Waterfowl Area, La Joya Waterfowl Area, Casa Colorada Waterfowl Area and Belen Waterfowl Area also create a nature byway that brings visitors in touch with the surrounding world. The Bernardo Waterfowl Area, in particular, is a worthy side trip, as it has a three-mile driving loop tour and three elevated viewing and photography platforms.

Two areas just outside of Socorro are known for the rugged outdoors enthusiast.

At Johnson Hill, Gordy’s Hill Off-Highway Vehicle Area is a 6,000-acre playground for dirt bike and all-terrain vehicle riders.

With views of the Rio Grande Valley and bosque, the area is filled with trail-riding routes that will challenge the experts, but areas also conducive to beginners just learning to enjoy the sport, said Kevin Carson, a Bureau of Land Management outdoor recreation planner.

The BLM’s Box Canyon Recreation Area is acclaimed for its readily accessible technical rock climbing and bouldering opportunities, Carson said.

“There’s a combination of climbing; sport climbing and technical climbing, and bouldering,” he said. “Bouldering over the last 15 years or so has become pretty popular.”

At 640 acres, the area is not overwhelming in size, but there are plenty of challenging lines so that people with all ranges of abilities will find something suitable to attack, Carson said.

“It’s pretty well-known regionally, as well as in New Mexico,” he said. “And it’s close to Socorro, so a lot of people use it for recreational use, hiking and photography.”

Venturing indoors in Socorro, the Hammel Museum sits in the pre-Prohibition Illinois Brewery, which was operated by the Hammel family from the late 1800s. When Prohibition crushed brewing, the family turned it into a soda bottling plant, becoming one of the first in the area to feature Pepsi, said Robert Eveleth, former president of the Socorro Country Historical Society.

The building was turned over to the society in 1987 for use as a museum and remnants of its history are on display.

In addition to a number of local historical items of interest, the building houses model railroad displays, he said. It’s open the first Saturday of every month (except December and January) from 9 a.m. to noon.

The Macey Center at New Mexico Tech often is the site for memorable acts, such as a recent showing of “Nosferatu,” known as the first vampire film and one of the earliest horror films.

The silent film was accompanied by a new, live score, composed by Christopher Smith and Roger Landes, that experiments musically. The score was played by Texas Tech’s Elegant Savages Orchestra and Balkan Ensemble.