Exhibitions & Events



Lost Prairie Valley

Planetary Bayou

Field Guide to Environmental Crime: Houston and the Oil Coast

Dead Zones

Extinction Simulation Landscapes

Lunar Mosaics

MacDowell Trilogy

Humans Lived Here Once

Whole Life Academy

Comfort in Hydrology

Uncanny Sensing, Remote Valleys

Water Castle

Radio Aporee Sound Map

Midstream at Twilight



Forest Threnody

Big Hill Petro-glyphs

Current State

Points of Presence

Brandenburg Series

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Sonic Boom Archive

Johnston Island Saturday Night

Suspension of Disbelief

Quantum Danube


Culpeper Media Bunker

A Doubting World

“... the floors of silent seas”

Background Listening Post

Regional Spatialities

Dark Places

Ultimate High Ground

American Oil Vol. I

Kleine Stücke von Berlin


Playas Townsite

Shepard Inversion Ghost


Shock + Awe

Gloom & Doom / Tactile Air

Routes of Least


Weather Radio

Site: Nonsite: Quartzsite

The Mountain Radio Project

Ballarat: Beneath Sentinel

CLUI Projects

Networked Nation


Urban Crude

CLUI Touchscreen

Texas Oil

Wendover, U.S.A.

CLUI Exhibit Posters

Pavement Paradise

Vacation: Dauphin

Dissipation & Disintegration

Terminal Island

Immersed Remains

Diversions & Dislocations

Emergency State

Loop Feedback Loop

A View into the Pipe

Ground Up

Nellis Range - Revisited

West Coast Points

The Best Dead Mall


Antarctic 1

One Wilshire

Alternate Routes

Proximity Issue

Back to the Bay

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© 2024 Steve Rowell


Steve Rowell

Playas Townsite

Playas Townsite is a photographic record of a town in a liminal, undead state. Officially described as a “counter terrorism training site” owned and managed by the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center (a division of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology,) Playas, New Mexico is a unique, 21st century ghost town. It was built in the early 1970’s from the void of the Animas Valley in the “bootheel” corner of the state to house workers for a nearby copper smelter owned by the multi-national Phelps Dodge Corporation and was abandoned in 1999 when smelter shut down operations. After 5 years of disuse it was purchased from its previous owner in 2004 with a $5 million grant from The U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Simulated situations of urban terrorism are regularly acted out here. Former residents of Playas are now hired as role-players for these exercises, acting as victims of attacks by suicide bombers.

Specters of Disaster Capitalism

Playas sits curiously between nation, state, and county borders, surrounded by the continental divide that winds both east and west of the town. This is a dystopic playground of potential future disaster that lies on the fringe of the romantic Southwest. Bracketed by ruins of native civilizations and the cold war, by petroglyphs in cliff dwellings and decaying isotopes beneath the crust where the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated, Playas sits and waits for its day in the sun.

Over the course of three years (2005-08) I photographed every structure in Playas, including all of the abandoned homes. The work from this intensive investigation has been shown in various galleries, at conferences and have been published in Stephen Graham’s book Cities under Siege: The New Military Urbanism, Verso, 2010.

2005 CLUI Lay of the Land newsletter article