Some things about Socorro and its environs that just can’t be beat. I’m talking about those events and stories that don’t happen anywhere else on Earth and get handed down through the years, making up our folklore, with some reaching the level of out-and-out mythology.

Take, for instance, Socorro’s fabled sheriff Elfego “El Gato” Baca, who cleaned up the county in the wild and wooly 1880s and even bragged about having stolen Pancho Villa’s favorite pistola. Another Socorro legend goes back almost 300 years, when it is said that Archangel Michael appeared over the Nuestra Senora de Socorro mission and scared away marauding Apaches, thus rightfully giving the church the name San Miguel.

And don’t forget the purported 1947 flying saucer crash in the Horse Springs area of the San Agustin Plains, which is still talked about in some circles, as well as the location of the Lost Adams Diggings somewhere in Catron County.

Speaking of Catron, a fellow from Datil contacted me a few years ago about his having proof of a vast network of underground tunnels built by the government that crisscross the southwest. The gentleman claimed that one of these tunnels went from somewhere near Datil all the way to Dulce up near the Colorado border. He actually came down to the office, brandishing a handful of single-space typed pages along with his crude hand-drawn chart showing what he said were the routes of the tunnels and where they could be entered.

That was something like 20 years ago, and if I could remember his name I would tell you, but one thing’s for sure, he loved to talk about it. Suffice it to say, it didn’t pass fact-checking muster.

All this is brought to mind because yesterday was the 60th anniversary of one of my all-time favorite Socorro legends, the police report filed by Socorro police Sgt. Lonnie Zamora a little before 6 p.m. on April 24, 1964.

This event was so famous and well-documented that I knew all about it before I moved here at the beginning of this century. So, if you, like me, know this story by heart, you can skip down a few paragraphs while I enlighten the unenlightened.

According to the Chieftain’s front page story, Lonnie reported that he saw what he initially thought was an overturned car down in an arroyo near the road that goes up the hill from Raychester. Getting a closer look, it was not a car wreck, plus there were two figures dressed in what he figured were coveralls next to it. Later, when asked, he said it looked like a balloon because he saw the whatever-it-was rise into the air and take off silently up the arroyo west toward Box Canyon and out of sight.

In the ensuing days, the Air Force, FBI, and J. Allen Hynek of Project Blue Book came out and took pictures and interviewed some people but, in the end, could not offer an explanation.

Anyway, word got around, and the site became the place to be, according to Gordy Hicks, who once told me as a teenager of going down to the arroyo where others were gathered and seeing impressions on the ground and burnt creosote bushes.

Since then, dozens of explanations have been put forth, ranging from the testing of a prototype lunar lander from White Sands that got off course to a homemade hot air balloon. The one I keep returning to is that of a possible prank perpetrated by New Mexico Tech engineering students. The president of New Mexico Tech at the time, Stirling Colgate, is said to have claimed in a letter to Linus Pauling many years ago that he knew for a fact it was a hoax and knew who the tricksters were.

If it was an elaborate trick, I’m curious how the Tech students were able to take all the time and energy to set it up before the week going into finals. Nevertheless, college students do have a propensity for mischief, if not for comical reasons (how many frat boys can be stuffed into a Volkswagon?), then just to see if they could pull it off. Right here, I’m thinking of that green toilet and pirate flag that appeared one morning in 2007 on top of Skeen Library’s clock tower.

How the heck did they do that?

For better or worse, here in New Mexico, we’re stuck being known for UFOs and Socorro has one of the top headscratchers in that department. Look, If it is ever proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that aliens from out there are visiting Earth, I will rue that day because I have too much fun questioning the whole idea.

As for the Socorro incident, I understand what the editor in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance meant when he said, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”