The effect of reduced temperature on synchronized transport of SFV membrane proteins from the ER via the Golgi complex to the surface of BHK-21 cells revealed two membrane compartments where transport could be arrested. At 15 degrees C the proteins could leave the ER but failed to enter the Golgi cisternae and accumulated in pre-Golgi vacuolar elements. At 20 degrees C the proteins passed through Golgi stacks but accumulated in trans-Golgi cisternae, vacuoles, and vesicular elements because of a block affecting a distal stage in transport. Both blocks were reversible, allowing study of the synchronous passage of viral membrane proteins through the Golgi complex at high resolution by immunolabeling in electron microscopy. We propose that membrane proteins enter the Golgi stack via tubular extensions of the pre-Golgi vacuolar elements which generate the Golgi cisternae. The proteins pass across the Golgi apparatus following cisternal progression and enter the post-Golgi vacuolar elements to be routed to the cell surface.