T. Rex Set for April Road Trip to Washington, D.C.

The real Wankel T.rex is prepared for exhibit in its original “death pose” at Montana State University’s Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, Mont., 2005. The Wankel T.rex died in a riverbed more than 65 million years ago. (Image credit: Photo courtesy Museum of the Rockies)

Stopped dead in its tracks when the government shut down, a famous T. rex skeleton will finally make its road trip from Montana to Washington, D.C., this spring.

Officials at the dinosaur's new home, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, announced Friday (Jan. 17) that the Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton is set to arrive on April 15, two weeks before the museum's fossil hall closes for a major five-year renovation. 

Randall Kremer, a spokesperson for the museum, said the dinosaur's arrival will mark the most significant addition to the museum since the Hope Diamond was donated to the collection in 1958. [See Photos of the Wankel T. Rex

The fossilized skeleton is thought to be up to 85 percent complete, making it one of the best-preserved T. rex specimens ever found. Rancher Kathy Wankel is credited with the dinosaur's discovery after spotting the creature's arm bones poking out of Montana's Fort Peck reservoir in 1988. Further excavations by a team of paleontologists revealed the rest of the remarkable find. Because it was discovered on federal lands, the dinosaur technically belongs to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is giving it to the Smithsonian as part of a 50-year loan agreement.

The so-called Wankel T. rex was originally supposed to leave the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont., this past fall, landing in Washington on Oct. 16 to coincide with the fourth annual National Fossil Day. But the lapse in government funding caused the Smithsonian to shut its doors and also stalled the dinosaur's big move. 

Separated into 19 individual crates, the fossil is now scheduled to leave Montana inside a FedEx truck on April 11, arriving in Washington four days later, Kremer said.

At Bozeman, the T. rex was displayed in its "death pose," or how it was found in the earth. Kremer said curators at the Smithsonian have not yet decided how the dinosaur will be arranged when it goes on display as the centerpiece of the newly designed hall.

"The first job for us is to get the T. rex here safe and sound and then see what we're going to be working with," Kremer said.

On April 28, the Smithsonian will close its fossil hall to begin a major renovation, which is expected to be finished in 2019. Kremer said it's possible that parts of the T. rex will go on view before the hall reopens, and visitors may have a chance to watch curators preparing the bones through a window in a hall off the rotunda. Museum officials say they also plan to display other dinosaur fossils through exhibitions while work on the hall is underway.

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Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and Space.com since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.