Lonely Planet Writer

76-Second Travel Show: "Las Vegas: ScIeNce City"

You not into casinos, cheesy night shows, smoky restaurants and $25 taxis to go anywhere on the strip? Me neither. But Vegas still works.

Flights there can be found for cheap, car rentals run about $20 to $25 per day, it's a nice jumping off point for a loop to the Grand Canyon's rarely seen North Rim and national parks in southern Utah, and while in town -- get your lab coat ready -- the place is lousy with science.

In nominating Las Vegas as the new "ScIeNce City," the SSTS (76-Second Travel Show) happily presents Vegas' SIX BEST SCIENCE ATTRACTIONS.

The College of Southern Nevada (CSN) opens its observatory on Friday and Saturday nights for a full-on glimpse of the stars. There's also astronaut ice cream. It's $6, beginning with an astronomy program at 7:30pm. Go by rental car. The taxi would run $75 minimum, one way.

Off the strip, this Smithsonian affiliate has a fairly defensive look at the state's involvement in atomic testing from 1961 to 1992. Plenty of videos with former employees talking about their role in the Cold War, and an interesting shop. You can also arrange tours of the Atomic Testing Site, north of town from here.

All the glitter of Vegas' neon past has been collected in this non-profit museum. There are some objects to see around Fremont Street, but the real attraction is its "boneyard," an outdoor collection of rescued neon signs that can be seen by reservation only. Call 702-387-6366.

Appearing in reality TV shows on occasion, this $250 million education complex features a "Desert Living Center" and two miles of (free) walking trails that piece together Nevada's cultural and natural history. Right in town.

At first glance, the park looks like decayed nougats of red fudge bursting from the desert floor. It's stunning and well worth bringing a picnic for the retro picnic shelters, and a walk around Silica Dome, where Captain Kirk perishes in "Star Trek Generations," or so we think. Only pop and some snacks available -- bring what food you'll need. They sell "Nevada State Park" hats for $15.

Tours of the he New Deal 726-foot dam - packed between Lake Mead on one side and the distant hydroelectric plant on the other - are available, but it's worth even just a walk across. Drive to the Arizona side for free parking.

--> STTS scientific experiment: It took 38 seconds to enter the Hoover Dam gift shop and find the first souvenir that did some "dam" word play (t-shirt: "This is My Dam T-Shirt").