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Does 'M' Mountain Need A Facelift?

SOCORRO, N.M., April 13, 2010 – ‘T’ Mountain? Dr. Van Romero thinks the 100 year anniversary of the ‘M’ marks a perfect opportunity to give Socorro Peak a new look.

Socorro Peak in late summer, covered in greenery and in cloudcover.  EMRTC photo by Ernie Lopez

“Maybe 100 years of the ‘M’ is long enough?” said Romero, the vice president of research and economic development at Tech. “This is the perfect time to rally together and bring Socorro Peak into the 21st century. Since the university is associated with technology, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to have a ‘T’ instead of an ‘M.’

Romero, who was a student at Tech in the late 1970s, is now in charge of the ‘M.’ He approves requests to light the ‘M’ – or the ‘W’ when the high school athletic teams, the Warriors, have home games. His office is also in charge of maintenance of the ‘M’ and the site surrounding the peak.

“We’re getting ready to light the ‘M’ for the end of semester,” he said. “As I do that, I am wondering about where we go in the future. This seems like the perfect time to put a new look on Socorro Peak and change the ‘M’ to better fit New Mexico Tech culture.”

The painting of the ‘M’ on Socorro Peak is the oldest Tech tradition, dating to 1910, according to Paige Christiansen’s history of Tech, College on the Rio Grande. He wrote that the event was sporadic and unorganized until 1916 when then-President Fayette Jones organized the annual event and Paint the ‘M’ became an annual tradition.

Beginning in the 1920's, the sophomores and the freshmen climbed Socorro Peak to give the ‘M’ a fresh coat of whitewash. Students carried 90-pound bags of lime on their backs up the mountain, mix it with melted snow, and then painted the ‘M.’ In 1958, painting the ‘M’ became a part of the St. Pat's spring celebration. In later years the sophomores no longer took part of the painting process but supervised the freshmen and the event was moved back to the 49’ers celebration in the fall.

Cash prizes were awarded to the team of two who first arrived at the ‘M’ with a 90 pound bag of lime. The event continues as a festive occasion and promotes considerable spirit amongst the students – with a few changes.

Today, all students are invited to climb the ‘M’ and freshmen are not expected to make the hike. In 2009, more than 100 people – students, faculty, alumni and community members – made the hike. Also, prizes are awarded to the first 20 students or teams of students who carry 50-pound bags of crushed marble.

Romero certainly wants to keep the traditional climb, but he feels that the mountain is ready for a facelift and a bit of modernization. He said Socorro Peak and the ‘M’ have undergone many changes over the years. Lights were added to the ‘M’ several decades ago – probably in the 1960s or 70s. The lights were not hard-wired until 2000.

A project to change the ‘M’ to a ‘T’ would also give the university an opportunity to improve access to the peak, Romero said.

“Currently, it’s very difficult to get from the parking area to the ‘M’,” he said. “It’s a pain. If we got enough of a production going, we could use that workforce to improve access so more people could enjoy Socorro Peak.”

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech