The dry, warm sun of the desert can be an inviting alternative to a Caribbean beach for a winter holiday. Among America's major desert vacation lands:

*Death Valley National Monument, Calif.: Resort accommodations at Furnace Creek Inn in the country's most-famous desert. Fantastic rock and land formations provide superb auto touring, and the swimming pool in a palm oasis awaits at day's end.

*Phoenix/Scottsdale, Ariz.: Major tennis and golf resorts dressed up in southwestern attire. Plenty of swimming; horseback riding in the desert; and the not-to-be-missed Desert Botanical Garden for its collection of cactus plants.

*Tucson: More fine resort life just north of the Mexican border. Plus small guest ranches and a chance for skiing in the nearby mountains. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum includes one of the nation's best specialized zoos, focusing on animals of the American desert. History in the area, too, including famous Tombstone, Ariz.

*Wickenburg, Ariz.: Classy dude ranches for the winter rider in a once-upon-a-time gold-mining town away from the big city. Chuckwagon dinners for an Old West flavor, along with tennis, swimming and golf.

*Carefree, Ariz.: Home of The Boulders, a new 1,300-acre "Rockresort" opening this winter 15 miles northeast of Phoenix. Accommodations in one-bedroom adobe casitas (little houses) with fireplaces for cool nights and patios for star-gazing.

*Las Vegas: If you want a break from the casinos, the desert is all around you. Golf, tennis, swimming and some of the gaudiest, grandest night life in America.