PINEDALE — Tyler Hofer and his wife Kayleigh were looking for a way out of California and admittedly didn't know anything about the hospitality business when they bought a run-down motel on the edge of Pinedale in 2021.
The old Wagon Wheel Motel sat vacant for a few years before the Hofers bought it and changed its name to the Jackalope Motor Inn. It needed paint, plumbing, electrical work, furniture, cabinets, flooring, landscaping and much more.
Tyler moved to Pinedale and started work on "The Jack," as it's come to be known, a few months before Kayleigh and their three young sons got there.
He grew up on a farm near Mitchell, South Dakota, and inherited the plucky qualities that are requisite of life on a farm. There are things that are just understood, and top of that list is you don't cut into the profit margin by hiring people to do jobs that you can do yourself.
"I grew up on a farm, so I'm somewhat handy," Tyler told Cowboy State Daily.
That first summer was full of long days learning the many intricacies of remodeling a building.
He said there's a resurgence of mom-and-pop drive-up motels going on in the U.S. Many people appreciate the convenience of being able to drive right up to the door of their rooms.
Like many entrepreneurs, the Hofers aren't afraid to take a risk, hard work is a given and failure isn't an option.
After opening The Jack in early July, they’ve also learned a lot about the popularity of the Continental Divide Trail and the people who travel it every summer.
The Hofers are savvy marketers and know tourism is important to Pinedale, but they didn't anticipate the steady stream of backpack-clad nomads that grind their way through Wyoming every year in July, August and September on the CDT. Nor did they know that most of those hikers would pour into Pinedale looking for cheap accommodations.
After that first summer, they concentrated efforts on the hiking community. They turned two of their 15 hotel rooms into six-bunk hostel rooms, added an outdoor shower, a washing machine, propane grill, hammocks, clothesline, fire pit, bicycles for getting around town and totes that hikers can pick through to get a can of bear spray, bottle of bug juice, a book or any number of donated items.
"The first summer really opened my eyes to the demand from hikers coming into town," said Tyler. "I was blown away by it. I had them staying in rooms that weren't even functional yet. They were just throwing sleeping pads on the floors and sharing showers. It was hiker central around here."
Tyler is a backpacker too, so he knows how to cater to the clientele. He also noted the things he was asked for, like hammocks and bicycles.
The Jack got mentioned on a popular hiker phone app called Far Out. The post said, "If you're not staying at the Jackalope Motor Lodge, you're not doing the CDT right," and since then they've had to put out the “No Vacancy” sign nearly every day.
"Stay Legendary" is The Jack's motto, and the place has a tall billboard on Pine Street that locals can count on for clever quips. Most recently the Hofers added to a phrase from the movie “Talladega Nights.” It states: "We're all jacked up on mountain views." In the recent past they've used: "We'll be your huckleberry."
They change the sign about twice a month.
The website tells the family's story of how the Jack brought the Hofers to the mountains of Wyoming and how the motel "is a place where story matters."
They have a trophy jackalope mounted in the lobby and a large map covered with stick pins where visitors mark their hometowns. The map is covered with pins, but the thickest concentration is in the northeastern United States. Tyler said they've had clients from Israel, Switzerland, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Germany.
Hikers On The CDT
Steve Adkins, trail name "Free," is a through-hiker from Orlando, Florida, who stayed at The Jack on Aug. 10. He started his summer journey on the CDT in May at the Mexican border.
Last year he spent 10 months hiking 4,000 miles from Key West Florida to Canada. His goal is to land his boots at the Canadian border in September, and next year he plans to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.
He said the CDT is the toughest route of the three because the weather window is narrower. Hikers are required to average at least 20 miles a day to make the trip before snow flies. He's a little behind schedule on this trip. The passage through the Colorado mountains was slower than normal because of snow this year, he said.
"When I got here, I'd never heard of a jackalope before," he said. "I thought it was some kind of mythical creature like a unicorn until I figured out it's a Wyoming thing."
Adkins has stayed at several hostels and he says the Jack "really nails it."
"They know what hikers need," he said. "Hikers are generally pretty filthy. We stay out for over a week sometimes. The showers here have the best pressure I've ever seen, and the water is super-hot. Between this outdoor space and the bunk rooms they have everything we need here, plus at $40 a night the price is right."
Adkins added that the Jack is special because of the little things it offers, like a propane grill so he can buy a steak from the grocery store, which saves money, the outdoor sink where he can wash the dishes he uses on the trail and that they provide laundry detergent so he doesn't have to buy it.
"I've stayed in a lot of hostels around the country and this one is top-notch," he said.
John Thompson can be reached at: John@CowboyStateDaily.com