ST HELENS, Ore. -- Sunday marks the 34th anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

Fifty-seven people died in the blast.

Now, 34 years later, the mountain stands as a fascinating laboratory for second graders from Vancouver who will have an overnight at the Science and Learning Center at Cold Water. It used to be called Cold Water Ridge and looks directly at the volcano s crater.

The kids are among the first to see a spider up close. The stainless steel contraptions were built and lowered onto the mountain when it began erupting again in 2004. It has sensitive monitors that detect ground movement.

Peter Frenzen is the scientist in charge of the monument.

Well it s amazing to see how time passes here at Mt. St. Helens and how much this landscape has changed, Frenzen said.

He says returning life showed scientists they were wrong assuming the smallest life forms would grow back first.

Yeah, we have the mightiest Douglas Fir tree and the smallest moss or lichen that are all blowing in and seeding in together and they re all out there and growing together, said Frenzen.

Tourists have come to the mountain for decades. Roger Haslam finally reached it Thursday, from Australia.

There was an article some years back in the national geographic, which I ve seen, and yeah, was very interested, said Haslam.

The mountain is a powerful presence.

Magnificent, said Tim Miller, a tourist from Gig Harbor, Washington. Just kind of showcases the power of nature.

It s one that still fascinates even the scientist in charge.

Put your hands up on the side of the mountain -- you can recreate the top, said Peter Frenzen, holding his hands up as a triangle in front of the mountain. It was very symmetrical, like Mt. Fuji. Then, that inside part is absolutely huge as well. So there s about a cubic mile missing there. And all of what we know as downtown Portland between I- 5 and 405 would fit handily inside the crater.

A huge place, huge forces! Frenzen said.

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