The tour runs in an east/west direction at an altitude of about 2,400 feet through the fertile wheatlands and the sagebrush barrens of Big Bend Country, so called because of the sweeping curve made by the Columbia River in the central part of the state. Gradually, the highway loses elevation until it crosses the Columbia; then it climbs by a long but fairly easy grade. Throughout the region large, well-cultivated farms alternate with stretches of uninhabited range; at widely spaced intervals small towns, ganglia of settlement, are strung along the highway.
Big Bend Country, a rugged plateau cut by deep coulees and scarred with patches of scab rock, is treeless except for a few willows, quaking aspens, and cottonwoods, which grow beside the shallow lakes and streams. It can be desolate-looking country, particularly in winter, when storms sweep down from the Canadian plains and drive the snow into smudgy hard-packed drifts across the roads. But it has moments of distinctive beauty. Spring transforms the barrenness for a brief season: wild flowers and grass almost overnight cover the hillsides; serviceberry bushes, rooted precariously in rocky promontories, become swaying towers of white blossoms; lupine and sunflowers make a tapestry of blue and gold. Even the dun-colored sage takes on a livelier hue. In summer, purple shadows of late afternoon lie on the bare brown hills; seas of ripening grain are rippled by vagrant breezes; and the multi-colored walls of rocky canyons glow in sharp contrast to the green water of the river below. Autumn brings goldenrod by the wayside, flocks of whistling blackbirds in stubble fields dotted with pyramids of yellow straw, and wild geese, flying wedges in the cloudless evening sky, honking their way southward. Even in winter there is magnificence in the seemingly limitless expanse of snow-covered hills, and in the flaming sunrises that transform the sky with rippling colors.