Next to the Tate Geological Museum at Casper College, there’s an unassuming garage. Inside, there’s a 66-million-year old Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton named Lee Rex parked in the middle of the room. It’s the only T. rex skeleton found in Wyoming that’ll be staying here for good.
But even Lee hasn’t found his final resting place yet.
“Wyoming has a long history of being a T. rex exporting state,” museum educator Russell Hawley says. “So we’re trying to reverse that trend.”
The first T. rex skeleton found in Wyoming lives in the British Museum, about 4,500 miles from its original habitat.
But Lee’s skeleton, found outside of Lusk, is staying in the same place he spent the Cretaceous Period roaming as a predator. Lee Rex has lived at Casper College since 2011, first in an unused truck bay in the career services building before getting his very own garage-like annex next to the Tate in 2016.
When visitors are in the museum, Hawley says he’ll walk in and offer to take anyone who’s interested to see the skeleton.
It’s predictably popular with kids, but a chalkboard crammed with signatures of people who’ve visited the tyrannosaurus shows the skeleton draws people from all ages and from all over. Everyone seems impressed by Lee Rex, Hawley said, but especially visitors from places like the East Coast, who are used to being separated from skeletons and museum displays by ropes, glass or strict security.
At the Tate, you still have to keep your hands to yourself (mostly — you can touch Lee’s knee with Hawley’s OK) but visitors can get up close and personal with the 66-million-year-old dino.
Free admission to the museum lets you see for yourself the hole in the skeleton that Hawley says is likely from a triceratops’ horn ramming into the T. rex. You can spot the orange tape marking where crocodile teeth were found with the skeleton, suggesting the carcass was at one time a buffet for other wildlife. You can count the dinosaur’s ribs and see the growth on its tailbones, which Hawley explains could be a sign of healing from a mating injury — which might suggest Lee is actually female.
The skeleton isn’t complete — only one T. rex has been found with a full set of bones — and Hawley says the missing pieces “could be in the Gulf of Mexico” for all we know.
His hands, feet and head would have to be constructed out of plaster and guesswork to make Lee whole. Because of that, Lee Rex won’t be getting the same kind of stand-up display that the museum’s towering Dee the Mammoth skeleton enjoys.
“Also, we want it to be in this position, because it’s very instructive for visitors to be able to see how the bones were found when it was discovered and dug up,” Hawley says.
The skeleton is too big to fit in the door of the museum in its current layout, and even if it did, Hawley says it might be too heavy for the floor.
“It’s actually a thin layer of concrete and a hollow space underneath,” he says. “We’re not 100-percent sure that it could support it.”
A 25,000 lbs. tyrannosaurus rex thought to be 65 to 67 million years old will now have a new home inside a new annex at the Tate Museum at Casper College.
The Tate is holding an open house starting at 4:00 today, May 31, at its new Rex Annex to celebrate the addition.
The speciman, named “Lee Rex” after the ranch’s owner near Lusk where it was discovered, is thought to be about 65 to 67 million years old.
It appears to be nearly fully grown according to the Tate’s field prep specialist J.P. Cavigelli, who discovered the specimen in 2005. About five years later he and a team dug it out, cast it and moved the entire piece on a custom frame to Casper.
There are now eight T. rex specimens that have been discovered in Wyoming, but Lee Rex is the only one to remain in the state.Along with housing Lee Rex, the new annex will also serve as extra work space for other large specimens the Tate might eventually recover.
J.P. Cavigelli points out a hole in the T. rex’s femur bone, which Tate Museum specialists speculate could have been caused by a horn hit from a triceratops. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)
Several fused vertebrae were recovered with the T. rex specimen now housed inside the Rex Annex at Casper College’s Tate Museum. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)
Workers prepare to transport the 25,000 lbs. T. rex specimen from its location on a ranch north of Lusk in 2010. The specimen is the 7th to be found in Wyoming, and is the only one to stay in the state. It is now housed inside the new Rex Annex at the Tate Museum. (Courtesy J.P. Cavigelli, Tate Museum)