The composition is entirely typical of Bierstadt's oeuvre, as well as the movement as a whole. We sit upon a bank in the foreground, looking across towards a stunning mountain range. A row of trees to the right provide a feeling of size and perspective, whilst in the far distance rocky formations appear from besides the other side of the lake. The artist would add layers of perspective, perhaps more than most others would do, meaning one could very much feel a part of these detailed, highly realistic painting. Indeed, most of these wild locations would probably look much the same today for those fortunate enough to visit the world famous Yosemite region. Indeed, the contributions of the Hudson River School really helped to widen the reputation of this beautiful region to an international audience, perhaps for the first time.
It is believed that the artist would actually camp within this region several times during the 1860s, normally alongside friends and colleagues. Landscape photography was also starting to become a part of society for the first time and this helped to make this artist think about these scenes in new ways. He loved to explore these regions himself, and so got as much from his visits by wandering around as he did from producing artworks for his career. He was passionate about the US and its natural beauty and wanted more people to be able to see it. He returned to New York where he would pick from a number of study drawings to create some of these fine paintings and this process became the norm for most of his career. There are some figures within Merced River, Yosemite Valley who are likely to be local Indians, whom Bierstadt loved to feature within his paintings.
Bierstadt always had a passion for the outdoors and was keen to encourage their protection. He believed that his paintings could bring support for these ideas and avoid some of these regions being treated in the same manner and natural areas in and around the major cities. Thankfully, most of these stunning scenes are still available to the public today and greater efforts are being made to protect them for future generations to enjoy as well. Perhaps one of this artist's secrets to success was in the genuine connection that he had with these environments, which was then communicated through intense and breaktaking artworks. He was also impressively skilled in a technical sense and able to re-create highly complex scenes after years of practice and careful study.