The view is to the northeast; but if you did a 360 here, it would look pretty much the same in any direction. The bones of this vast plain came into being sometime between 16.5 and 13.5 million years ago, when the flood basalts of the Columbia River Basalt Province pooled here, then begin to solidify. How long it took the completely sterile surface to completely heal in this particular area is hard to say, but it may have been thousands of years. Then as now, the prevailing winds were from the southwest. With every passage of the wind, a thin layer of loess was put down over the mineral-rich, rapidly decaying basalt. The layers ultimately accumulated to great depths - in some areas the soil was well over 200 feet deep. The closest land-borne colonizers were at least 90 miles away from here; the wind-borne plants and critters would have had to travel even further.
The CRBG wasn't the only cataclysm to pass over this land in geologically recent times. Flood waters from glacial Lake Missoula poured through here around 13,500 years ago. The floodwaters were 10 to 12 miles wide, 200-400 feet deep, and moving at around 65 miles an hour. What you see in this location today are the ripped up remains of the CRBG basalts themselves. The vast and fertile prairie that once covered those basalts was completely stripped away and carried south towards the Columbia River. Once the flood had torn off the 200-400 feet of loose material covering the basalt, it went after the bedrock itself, literally plucking up great chunks and bearing them away as well.
J Harlen Bretz, the geologist who first recognized that the Scablands resulted from a flood of nearly unimaginable proportions, had this to say about this particular place:
“Drumheller is the most spectacular tract of butte-and basin scabland on the plateau. It is an almost unbelievable labyrinth of anastamosing [braided] channels, rock basins, and small abandoned cataracts”.
The viewpoint above is on the southwest corner of the channeled area. I'd like to think Bretz once stood on these very rocks, and maybe someday I'll be able to find out if that is true.
I was curious about the Drumheller name for this area, having already heard about the town of Drumheller in Alberta, Canada. After a little research (nothing exhaustive) I put my money on Daniel Drumheller, who settled in these parts around 1880. Looking for confirmation, I contacted the US Fish and Wildlife Service to see what they could tell me:
No idea. Washington State Place Names offers nothing.
We're going to keep looking. I've reached out to the National Park Service, who administers the NNL program, and Laurie is going to look in the files. If she finds anything, she'll let you know. However, it just might be one of those things that can never be tracked down -- the person generating the application puts in a name, for reasons known only to that person, and that reason goes to the dustbin of obscure history with the person. Or the place was named decades earlier by a local who, once again, is the only person who knows why he/she started calling the place by that name.
I'm focusing my research efforts in so many directions right now, I can't afford to pursue this curiosity any further, at least for the time being. But something tells me I will be passing through both this country and this little place-name mystery again, before I conclude my work on Bretz's wonderful story.