Vegas' Real Light Show
Death Valley, California
It's strange but true: One of the best places to stargaze in the United States is a two-hour drive from the Las Vegas Strip. Death Valley is ranked as one of the world's darkest skies, and there's no darker time than winter, when there's less atmospheric disturbance. For utter blackness, head to Mesquite Spring campground, where you can light a fire to stay warm (lows are in the 40s) and roast marshmallows before heading back to your hotel. "As the sun sets, you can see the Zodiacal light, a brilliant column of sunlight reflected off space dust," says David Blanchette of the Las Vegas Astronomical Society. Peak viewing is an hour and a half after sunset, when the Milky Way is so bright you'll think you're on the moon — and coyote howls will be the only thing bringing you back to Earth.
Fly: The two-hour drive from Las Vegas to the park is one of the best in the Southwest.
Stay: Furnace Creek Resort — two hotels, restaurants, and a bar in the middle of nowhere. [furnacecreekresort.com]