Exploring the Trout Lake Cheese Caves

My wife and I do something adventurous to celebrate her June birthday every year. However, she was knee-deep in final exams this time. We decided to reschedule our adventurous outing for the weekend following her finals, when we could both relax and enjoy the experience. Having lived in Trout Lake, we heard about the many lava tubes in the area, including the well known ice caves and cheese caves. Sadly, we had neglected to take advantage of these sights in our own backyard until now.

Guler Cheese Company LocationThese caves have an interesting history as they were used as a natural refrigerator in the 1930s and 1940s due to their 42 degree year-round temperature. The Guler Cheese Company was founded at a time when aged French bleu cheese was in short supply due to the political turmoil preceding World War II. The goal was to replicate the aging process used to make Roquefort cheese, using caves for storage and aging. The Pacific Northwest Cheese Project has an article that covers the history of the site and it’s definitely worth a read.

Fast forward to the 1930s and 40s. At the time, American scientists were spending a lot of time scheming about how to replicate the blue cheeses of France that were no longer being imported into the United States due to political turmoil and World Wars in Europe. Can you see where this is going? An enterprising man named Homer Spencer put two and two together. Spencer, working in conjunction with the USDA, had the bright idea to develop the caves of Klickitat County into something resembling those at Roquefort, France.

The cave took us about a half hour to explore, an activity made much easier by the piercing beams of our Surefire flashlights. The typical features of lava tubes were present, such as flow ledges and lavacicles.  The most interesting feature of this cave, however, was the remnants of the cheese shelves just below the ladder connecting the cave to the foundation of the Guler Cheese Factory. The staircase had been replaced with a metal version in the 1960s as indicated by a date carved into the foundation. We lingered here for a bit and shot some photos. I kept thinking this would be a great hideout in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Cheese cave entrance

We had just our on camera flash which had very little power to light the cavern. Instead we settled on a “painting with light” technique where we used our flashlights to highlight the cavern’s features during a long 3-5 second exposure. The result produced more dramatic lighting and better photographs.

5 Comments

  1. Nice technique with the lighting. And I’m glad to know I’ll have a cheese connection after the zombie apocalypse. Can I still get cheese from you, even if I’m a zombie?

    • Thanks! Check out the ice cave photos too. I think we had better lighting there. Very true – we can’t live without cheese. If you become a zombie, the only cheese you’ll be craving is human head cheese. Sorry, I won’t let you eat my brain :P

  2. HOWDY, I LIVED IN WHITE SALMON FOR OVER 60 YEARS, HAVE BEEN TO THE
    GULER CAVES MANY TIMES THOUGH THE YEARS. ALWAYS INTERESTING,
    ALWAYS AN “ADVENTURE”. FIRST TIME DOWN I FOUND IT BLACK AS THE INSIDE
    OF A COW AND DIDN’T HAVE THE PROPER LIGHTING BUT THEREAFTER WE
    WENT PREPARED AND EACH TRIP WAS A GREAT EXPERIENCE. WE WERE
    SADDENED TO SEE THE VANDALISM DONE TO THAT NICE HOUSE SHORTLY
    AFTER IT WAS BUILT. MY PARTNER, KEITH MC COY, TOLD THE STORY THAT
    WHEN HE WAS ON THE EAST COAST, IN THE NAVY DURING WORLD WAR II,
    RAN INTO A “CHEESE EXPERT” WHO HAD ORDERED A VERY SPECIAL CHEESE
    FROM THE WEST COAST AND HE WAS GONG TO SHARE IT WITH KEITH. WHEN
    THE CHEESE ARRIVED THE GUY PROUDLY PRESENTED IT—IT WAS GULER
    BLUE CHEESE FROM TROUT LAKE!!!!!!

    DON’T KNOW IF THE PRESENT COMPANY SELLS THEIR CHEESE OVER THE
    INTERENETBUT DO INTEND TO BUY SOME THE NEXT TIME I GET TO TROUT
    LAKE. I ENJOYED YOUR ARTICLE. DOUG HOLLISTON

  3. Hello
    I can tell you more about the Cheese cave. I grew up in Trout Lake, my dad David R Clark and Uncle Don Clark were born and raised in Trout Lake or near there. Wade Dean owned a lot of the area where the Cheese and Butter Caves are. In 1958 he hired my dad, my uncle Don and Dale Meyers to haul 17 loads of the smelly blue and rouqufort and other cheese from the bowels of the cave. We lived at that time in one of the old Hollenbeck Mill houses and dad had been night watchman there for a time.

    I was 8 years old when they started hauling cheese out in my dad’s cousin’s old Red and White Ford Pick up and Dale Meyer’s White Ford Pick up. Wade wanted the old rickety wood steps replaced with the current steel steps. So my dad and uncle and Dale Meyer’s, Jame’s Brixy and Bill Mcqustion all hauled out the cheese to the local dump and then built the steel stairs. They then were hired to build the A frame house over the cave. I remember playing often and sometimes helping bring a hammer, nails or a saw to the men and mom and Jo ann would take lunches out to them as it was only a mile from the Mill houses.

    Dean wanted to make the A frame into a gift shop and historical museum with stories from the old timers, The Arnies, Gulers, Jennings, Schmidts, Marshalls, Olsens, Fiester’s Robbins and other settler families. But he became sick and the project was never finished. Earl Dean his son did not want to purse the idea and so after 2 and a half years it failed.

    During that time my uncle and dad did some horse logging and also cut fern, and other greenry to sell to the White Salmon Flower shop and stored them in another nearby Cave that originally had been used by the Arnie family as a place to hang and store beef , deer and other animal carcess and process the meat for sale in Trout Lake, B.Z Corners and White Salmon. That was abandoned when it attracked bear and coyotes. After that My dad and uncle Don and Dale Meyers used it to store the cut and bundled fern and other foliage, mistletoe and Christmas trees in for sale. The built the wood steps down into them and also the wood flume they used to dump sawdust down to help pack the fern in and keep the Christmas trees in until time for sale. I remember playing there too and helping with dragging the trees into the cave to be set up until they got them ready to sell.

    Mr. Dean had planned to develop the Cheese, Meat and Butter Cave and have tour guides to take people to see those and the basement, bat and ice caves and have a little resturant and curio shop in the A frame over the cheese cave and take people down into the cave spelunking but when he got cancer everything fell through. The projects of the Cheese cave and the Greenry Cave as the old Meat cave came to be called ended in 1961 when Dean died and also my dad had a tree fall on him with the horse logging project breaking his arm in 9 places and shattering his left thumb. We then moved to Vancouver Washington for a year I was 11 and turned 12 there we then moved back to Husum, where my dad lived in my grandma’s house for 6 years and my uncle and him went into cutting, splitting and selling cedar shakes. I now live in Mead,WA near Spokane but Trout Lake is ever my home town and I miss the area. The Marshall who live there are my cousins as are the Preslers and Ron Clark. I went to school with Greg and Bev Meyers and the Alloway’s Schmidts and many others. There are few left who know some of the old stories and history. I just turned 65 August 11th this year 2014 and the oldest of the Clark family and cousins. Jeff Elmer knows some stories and if she is living Jo Ann Meyer’s Wight in B.Z corners knows some as well. I can tell you a few more having lived in the area most my life until age 42. When we moved to Spokane area.

    • Great stories, Jennine. Thanks for sharing. I appreciate these old stories and understand how history sometimes slips away. Thanks again.

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