It didn't look good.
The signs at Arches National Park said, "Campground Full" at the very popular Devils Garden Campground.
After all, the campground is one of the most popular in the entire national park system. Many of the 51 sites are booked six months in advance.
We did what most people do when they come to Arches without a reservation. We camped for our first night along the Colorado River in one of the many BLM campgrounds on State Route 128, then traveled into this popular park near Moab, Utah, the next day.
We got to the Devils Garden the next morning bright and early to do a hike. As we passed the campground, I decided to walk in and see what it looked like.
Sure enough it was jaw-droppingly beautiful set amid gorgeous rock formations.
I was just about to turn around when I ran into two campground hosts doing their morning rounds.
"Any chance people have dropped out or cancelled?" I asked. The hosts smiled and said, "Yeah, we have a site for you." It turns out someone had just pulled out, relinquishing their final night.
And that's how you score a site in Arches without a reservation -- you get there early and you ask nicely.
Our day and night at Arches was memorable. We did a hike at Devils Garden to Landscape Arch, then spent the day hanging out amid the beauty of Arches. At night, we had a big campfire and cooked dinner over the flames. It was everything you could possibly want in a national park experience.
We got lucky and learned a lesson in the process: Don't give up, and don't always believe "Campground Full" signs.