As the intense heat makes way for Indian summer nights, and then fades to crisp fall mornings, our region's tourism shoulder season is an excellent time to explore the three rustic gems that are the Northwest's Grand Lodges.

As the intense heat makes way for Indian summer nights, and then fades to crisp fall mornings, our region's tourism shoulder season is an excellent time to explore the three rustic gems that are the Northwest's Grand Lodges.

All originally built within 15 years of each other, the lodges at the Oregon Caves, Crater Lake and Mt. Hood were mainly spearheaded in the midst of the Great Depression to provide jobs, skills and self-respect for the unemployed. Today, these historical buildings provide a refined, rustic escape for all who seek a quiet refuge without a hint of pretentiousness.

The Chateau at the Oregon Caves

Nestled into the mysterious and enchanting Oregon Caves lies a well-kept secret: a chalet and 23-room chateau at the Oregon National Monument.

Using indigenous materials, local workers spent three years creating the six-story chateau. Completed in 1934, and open May to October, the chateau showcases original bark siding and an expansive marble fireplace quarried from the caves and decorative wooden accents from the surrounding forest.

High demand architects designed most of the Grand Lodges, but Gust Lium, a local area builder, supervised the chateau. His innovative design included a jagged roofline and asymmetrical features that blur the lines of the building with the rugged backdrop of the caves. The interior of the chateau acts as an extension of the caves: common rooms are long, low and intimate.

One of the greatest pleasures in the chateau is the incorporation of Cave Creek into the design. Much to diners' delight, Lium took water from a creek above the lodge and guided its flow through the dining room, allowing the stream to continue its natural path. The chateau's commitment to "local" extends to nearly every facet of their service. Guests enjoy locally produced furniture, soaps and shampoos in the rooms; and at the dining room table they enjoy a feast of Oregon's bounty with locally grown herbs and vegetables, handcrafted cheeses and locally raised meat and poultry.

But it's not about luxury here, it's about the beauty of nature, says lodge manager Pamela Gutekunst. There are no televisions or phones in the rooms, just fabulous backdrops, caves and woods to explore.

"It's like you're walking back into the '30s," says Gutekunst. "You come to read and take hikes—it's great for families. It's a great thing to see families spending time together. We want you to have as much fun as we're having up here."

The chateau will be celebrating its 75th birthday next year—the same time Oregon will be turning 150. Gutekunst says it will be a party worth attending.

Crater Lake Lodge

Oregonians take pride in having one of the world's most beautiful natural jewels right in their own backyard. In 1915, the original Crater Lake Lodge was built to provide a place for weary travelers to rest their bones after making the long trek to see the country's deepest lake.

In 1989 it was closed for remodeling. When rehabilitation turned into reconstruction, the lodge was rebuilt from the ground up using many of the original materials. It reopened, better than ever, in 1995 after $15 million was spent in renovation costs.

Guests can take in the scenery by hiking or driving the 33-mile rim around the lake or hiking down the one-mile Cleetwood trail to the caldera. Deer, elk, bears, chipmunks, marmots, and a variety of bird life are sure to make an appearance. Picnic spots are great places to stop for packed-along refreshments at scenic viewpoints.

Boat tours are the best way to see the lake up close. "It's one thing to admire the lake from above, and another thing entirely to see it from a boat," says Vickie Williams, the lodge manager. "It's some of the purest water in the United States."

Back at the lodge, old-time rocking chairs on the veranda provide a million dollar view to accompany cocktails and hors d'uvres in the evening. The walnut crusted gorgonzola, wild mushroom brushcetta, and the wild salmon satay are sure to whet your appetite for what's being served up in the dining room: Filet mignon with wild mushroom merlot accompanied by Oregonzola gold potato mash, or the pan seared wild Alaskan salmon rubbed with brown sugar and a tarragon remoulade. A perfect ending to an adventure-packed day.

There are 72 rooms at Crater Lake Lodge, the majority over-look the lake, and no two look alike.

"It's a grand old lodge and well maintained," says Williams, "but if you're looking for snooty, you won't find it here."

Timberline Lodge

John Tullis, spokesperson for Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood, says Timberline is "every Oregonian's mountain home." And that's because it was literally built by the people for the people.

"It represents a period of time in our history when the country was faced with pretty dire economic times. In the throes of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt put people to work. It represents a governmental movement "¦ and everybody came together," he says.

Built entirely by hand starting in 1936, the lodge was completed in 15 months. Interior designer Margery Hoffman Smith supervised all aspects of design and production for the lodge. Twenty-three different motifs are employed at Timberline, and the frequent wildflower theme can be seen in the draperies, bedspreads, rugs, hanging watercolors and oil paintings. Painted a soft gray to appear frost covered, the outside of the lodge is truly an extension of the mountainside.

And the mountainside is legendary—Mt. Hood has the longest ski season in North America and is one of the most highly visited tourist attractions in Oregon. For a ski resort, it's a bit unusual, though. Thanks to the slow-melting glacier, it's summers are busier than it's winters.

But if busy is what you're looking to avoid, you're in luck. The ski area closes down from Labor Day to mid-November, making autumn a nice time to enjoy the 1,200 miles of woodland trails, the lodge, mountain and the fine dining.

Leif Benson, Timberline's executive chef for almost 30 years, is the winner of many world-class culinary awards. Chef Benson cultivates a soiree of the senses for each meal by using only the Northwest's freshest ingredients that complement Timberline's unique ambiance and wine list.

A sense of place, history, accessibility and ownership exists for all who call Timberline their mountain home. "We want to welcome everybody here," says Tullis. "It's their lodge."