It was a secret. Top secret. Which was why some operations were tucked out of the public eye in a gravel pit, down in a valley between railroad tracks and the Gunnison River.
It appeared low-key, but it was part of The Manhattan Project. Uranium from across the Colorado Plateau was brought to Grand Junction to be processed into yellowcake, and then shipped to upstate New York.
Of course, no one working in the Grand Junction refinery, and very few of the people who were part of the project's engineering and military chain that stretched across the United States during World War II, knew what it was all for.
Then "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" dropped, and it was suddenly clear.
So the No. 1 question Padraic Benson has received of late from guests touring the recently opened Atomic Legacy Cabin museum is this: Was uranium from here used in those atomic bombs?
He has looked into it and, frankly, "it's really hard to track a particular atom of uranium," said Benson, program analyst with the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Legacy Management.
There were other bombs made and tested, there were stockpiles of bombs and then there were nuclear reactors in need of fuel, he said. The uranium that passed through Grand Junction could have ended up in any of those places.
While an absolute answer to that No. 1 question seems to be elusive, the story of Grand Junction's role in The Manhattan Project isn't, and can be found at that Atomic Legacy Cabin museum, which is geographically still tucked behind the hillside where the Orchard Mesa Municipal Cemetery is located, but very much open to the public eye.
The cabin, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, can be found at the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Legacy Management, 2597 Legacy Way.
The cabin has been a number of things through the years — it has housed offices, a credit union, a workout gym, Benson said.
Now it is a museum offering information and history that can't be found in one place elsewhere in western Colorado.
Its informational and interactive displays begin with the geology of the Colorado Plateau and its mining history, which is kind of a "pre-history" to answer the question, "why here?" Benson said.
From there, the displays tell of World War II, The Manhattan Project and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 2nd Lt. Philip C. Leahy, who was given secret orders in 1943 to come to Grand Junction and establish a uranium procurement and processing program in the area.
The museum then offers information about the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Colorado Raw Materials Office that was located in the cabin during the Cold War, and finally ends with details about the uranium remediation in the Grand Valley and the current status of the various sites involved.
"It's a little cabin with a big story," said Richie Ann Ashcraft, a public affairs specialist with Navarro Research and Engineering Inc, a contractor to the Office of Legacy Management, which assisted with the research and creation of Atomic Legacy Museum.
Ashcraft and Benson are hopeful residents from the Grand Valley and beyond will visit the cabin, learn and ask questions.
It's an important part of this area's history and shouldn't be forgotten, Benson said.