Socorro, a quiet, pleasant town of about 9,000, is an unusual mix of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Established as a mining settlement and ranching center, its downtown area is dominated by numerous mid-1800s buildings and the 17th-century San Miguel Mission. The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (New Mexico Tech) is a major research center. Socorro is also the gateway to a vast and varied two-county region that includes the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, the Very Large Array National Radio Astronomy Observatory (VLA), and three national forests.