Ponderings of a Pathway Plodder

Nestled between the Horse Heaven and Rattlesnake Hills lies the beautiful lower Yakima Valley. For over one hundred years, farmers and ranchers have called this valley home and have worked tirelessly clearing thousands of acres of sagebrush while developing an extensive system of irrigation canals. Man may be a relative newcomer, but one native species has survived centuries as the lowest morsel on the food chain:  the Townsend’s Ground Squirrel or “Sage Rat”. These little rodents end their yearly hibernation by poking their heads out of their burrows in the early spring.  Immediately they become the targets of Red-Tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, Badgers, various speedy canines and felines, and six-ply radial all weather tires.

The Sage Rat has a sharp, distinctive whistle that it sounds when it senses danger, oftentimes right before it disappears into it’s burrow. Anybody who has run or biked along the many back roads in the valley has heard this familiar cry and has become annoyed by it. Each year, the females give birth to anywhere from 2 to 8 pups and many times their dens can be found merely inches off the shoulder of a busy road.  This serves as a defense since raptors are deterred by heavy traffic but it also adds to the mortality of less wary Sage Rats. For some reason still not understood by conservationists, the Sage Rat will run for cover when the target of an aerial attack, but will not budge an inch when an automobile is racing toward it at 50 mph. Many drivers have unknowingly dispatched these mammals while feeling nothing more than a little bump.

The “Sage Rat Run” Half-Marathon will expose you to plenty of these little guys while raising money for the Ronald McDonald House charity. The 13.1 mile run starts in Sunnyside and ends in Prosser, utilizing the pathway that runs between. The 12k starts in Grandview also using the pathway. People have asked if it is a scenic run, citing such examples as the Columbia Gorge, Leavenworth and Canyon Marathons. All we can do is laugh and say, “It’s not even close.” The Pathway is paralleled on either side by Interstate 82 and Highway 12. It has it’s fair share of tumbleweeds, puncture-vine and an abundance of Black-billed Magpies just waiting for you to collapse.

You can see the Horse Heaven Hills and Rattlesnake Mountain in the distance. This is a beautiful area full of alluring scenery. You can see this wonderful country from the pathway. You just will not be running in it. There are numerous wineries through out the area and near the pathway route. But don’t consider this run for it’s scenery, consider it for it’s camaraderie. Visit with your friends as you race toward the finish line together. And who knows? Maybe a Sage Rat will whistle at you.

Not a runner? We don’t blame you. Those guys are crazy, but come anyway and walk the pathway with your friends. You’ll have a great time and have the satisfaction of knowing that your entry fee helps support the Ronald McDonald House and other charities.

Submitted by Toby Pfaff, Professional Pathway Plodder

See the Dirty Rat Run for trail conditions.

Running the the 5k? The Sage Rat River Run 5k is along a nice scenic portion of the Yakima River. This area is located at the base of the Horse Heaven Hills with great views of the hills, vineyards and the river.