I'm referring to something like the brown areas in this picture:
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The answer to your question largely depends upon the context.
If you mean the land on which the highway passes through, this is known as a right of way. Essentially, it is land granted for passage of highways and railways. And, typically the zone of the right of way extends quite a bit on either side of the roadway.
If you are referring to the waste area (undeveloped/uninhabited land) on either side when driving through a desert, you usually will refer to this by the specific biome or flora you see. For example: salt flats, desert, cactus patch, red rock mesas, etc.
If you mean the strip of land immediately adjacent to a road, often covered in gravel, this is known as the shoulder of the road. This area is typically used for stopping at roadside, or for the passage of emergency vehicles.
Ref.: Merriam-Webster Online
2 : the shoulder of a road