Backroads Journal

On the Edge of the Flint Hills

Gazing out over the rolling hills that fall off into the West Branch of the Fall River Valley, I truly feel like I’m one of the luckiest guys around.  I have designed the perfect job to take advantage of both of my loves.  Wandering the backroads of Butler County, looking for an interesting and creative subject for the Coutts Memorial Art Museum 2010 Gift Print, not only am I able to spend a great day driving the countryside, but then I also get to return to my studio and create an etching that will go out to 125 appreciative art patrons.  Talk about a win-win!  Having an excuse to wander the great outdoors and then come back home and be creative!  I love it!

The Coutts Memorial Art Museum in El Dorado asked me to be the Gift Print Artist for 2010.  It’s interesting that the Gift Prints of the Prairie Printmakers from the 1930’s and 40’s are what directed me into printmaking in the first place.  My Grandfather’s collection of the Prairie Printmakers’ Gift Prints, which grace the walls of my home now, have always been a fascination of mine.  I remember seeing those prints in my Grandfather’s bungalow home in the 1200 block of Woodrow in Wichita.  My sister and I would go over there on Saturday nights and watch Lawrence Welk and Gunsmoke with Grandpa while our parents would go out for dinner.  I guess the art that Grandpa was so fond of kind of settled into my brain as an old and familiar image of home and family. 

When the time came for me to decide the direction of my artistic career, there was no doubt that I would go down the road of traditional printmaking.  Being selected as a Gift Print Artist has closed the loop and connected me spiritually with the Prairie Printmakers and my Grandpa Edwin. 

So, here I stand, the December wind in my hair, looking over the most magnificent Flint Hills vista I have seen yet.  The eastern slope of the Flint Hills in Butler County has to be one of the great, hidden gems of our great state!  Chase County seems gets all the Flint Hills publicity, but drive a few of the wandering gravel roads that cut through the ranches east of Flint Hills Road that runs from Rosalia north to Cassoday and you will fall in love with this area as I have.

I began the day at Leon and wandered northeast, up the North Branch of the Little Walnut.  At Rosalia, Flint Hills Road takes you north to NE 20th Road.  If you follow that east you will run into Ivanpah Road and one of the greatest drives in the Flint Hills.  This open range, gravel road takes you along the edge of the hills as they fall off into the plains to the east.  Every turn in the road brings new vistas and great photo opps.  Following this road that roughly parallels Ivanpah Creek will take you into Greenwood County and to Township Road 32, where you can head north through the 777 Ranch and Shadow Valley Ranch properties.  Be sure to watch for the wild mustang herds that grace the land on these ranches.

About 8 miles north on TR 32 the road takes a turn to the northwest back into Butler County and winds along Battle Creek as it rises back up the slope of the hills.  As you reach the crest of the hill, stop by the side of the road, walk out into the Bluestem pasture to the north and gaze back down the way you have come.  Not only will you see a great vista of the Flint Hills, you will also see the view that inspired the Coutts Art Museum’s 2010 Gift Print.  The vista looks southeast down Battle Creek with the hills of Greenwood County in the distance. 

As you stand in the Bluestem, listen to the sounds around you, feel the wind in your face, let the sun warm your back and learn to appreciate the rolling hills, impressive cloud formations and magnificent vistas of our great Flint Hills.

If you can drag yourself away from the view, following Battle Creek Road west will put you onto NE 135th Road and back to Flint Hills Road, just south of Cassoday.  At Cassoday you can pick up K-177 that will take you back to US 54 and El Dorado or north to Matfield Green and Council Grove. 

A note to the Backroad Travelers: As with any wandering through the countryside, remember that you are passing by and through someone else’s property.  Always treat the land and property with respect, take only photos and memories, obey the No Trespassing signs and be friendly to those you pass.  It could be their property!  Also, a good set of tires will keep you from having to ask for help.

For the best backroad wandering maps, including the roads mentioned above, I recommend the Kansas Gazetteer.  Go to