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Monday, March 16, 2020

Ground Control Trail

Ground Control trail traces the cliffs below the Cockscomb
Kudos to whomever came up with the name for one of the newest trails in Sedona. The Ground Control trail, which opened in January 2020, delivers exactly what the aerial-themed moniker implies, lots of exposure and terrific fly-over views.
Fog covered Bear Mountain seen from Outer Limits trail
The compact but complex trail is located in the still-evolving, 29-mile Western Gateway Trails system that spins off from the old standard Girdner Trail in the Dry Creek area on the western edge of Sedona. The 0.7-mile Ground Control trail is situated in the middle of the system and can only be accessed by way of connecting routes. The quickest way to get to is from the north at the Aerie trailhead off Boynton Pass Road not far from the hyper-popular Bear Mountain and Doe Mountain trails. From this relatively under-the-radar trailhead, a 3.8-mile loop using the Cockscomb, Outer Limits and Ground Control trails gets to the good stuff post haste but also has options for building longer circuits.
Begin by hiking 1 mile on the Cockscomb trail then hang a right at the Ground Control junction.
Doe Mountain seen from Cockscomb trail
Agaves and cacti on the Cockscomb trail
Pinnacles of the Cockscomb formation on Ground Control
Blackfoot daisies bloom in sunny spots on the trails
Ground Control trail opened in January 2020
The freshly re-aligned single track was adapted by the forest service from a user-created bike route that traces on the edgy west face of the iconic Cockscomb rock formation. While the trail begins with an easy, twisting climb, its wonky character take hold once it reaches a deck-like passage of sandstone shelves.
Ground Control trail begins with a mild ascent
Lodged between the towering red rock escarpments of the Cockscomb and miles of open plains 300 feet below, the slick rock path hangs close to the brink and in places, walking the uneven exposed ledges mimics the rolls and bumps of a small aircraft flying through turbulence. 
Gregg's ceanothus is a common shrub on the route
Tight turns, abrupt down steps and glimpses of Sedona landmarks Capitol Butte and Courthouse Rock define the final quarter-mile of the trail that slips off the rocky flanks landing on calmer tread for the next leg of the hike. At the base of the Cockscomb formation, the route meets the Outer Limits trail. For the loop hike, head right. Otherwise, consult the trail maps posted at every junction to create a longer trip or car shuttle hike using the Cultural Park trailhead off State Route 89A.
View of Thunder Mtn (Capitol Butte) from Ground Control
Continue on the Outer Limits trail through beautiful high desert terrain accented with junipers, cypress, scrub oak, yuccas, cacti and acres of ocotillo. With its ample sunshine and watery drainages this 0.8-mile path is a productive destination for spring wildflower viewing in March and April.
Lots of ocotillo on the Outer Limits trail
Back at the Cockscomb junction, head left and retrace your steps back to the trailhead to complete the hike.
LENGTH: 3.8 mile loop
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4,454 – 4,714 feet
Aerie Trailhead (described here):
From the State Route 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, head 3.2 miles west (left toward Cottonwood) on SR 89A to Dry Creek Road. Turn right and go 2.9 miles to Boynton Pass Road (FR152C), make a left and continue 1.5 miles to a “T” junction and veer left to stay on FR152C. Continue 1.4 miles to Aerie Road, turn left and go 0.4 mile to the turn off for the trailhead on the right.  There are no fees or facilities at the trailhead.
Cultural Park trailhead (optional south access):
From the State Route 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, head 4.2 miles west on 89A Cultural Park Place on the right at the traffic signal. Go north 2.2 miles to the parking area. Follow the Outer Limits trail north to connect with Ground Control. There is a
picnic ramada and interpretive displays at the trailhead. No fees.


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