The foreground displays a river which is surrounded by tall, sparse trees and green vegetation. The shoreline has rocks of various sizes scattered along the banks. In the distance are the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains against a cloudy sky. The whole landscape is completely untouched by man and has a certain stillness to it. The painting emphasizes the sheer scale of the Rocky Mountains, as they tower over the rest of the landscape. A waterfall in the centre of the escarpment and tiny trees adorning the top further serve to provide scale as to the landmark's massive size.
Bierstadt was a German-born American painter of the 19th Century, whose main source of inspiration was the vast landscapes of America's West Coast. He was born in Germany and brought to America by his parents at the age of one. Bierstadt later returned to Germany to study at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, before returning to America and embarking across the country to take part in the Westward Expansion, where he completed most of his works. In his lifetime, Bierstadt completed over five hundred paintings, many of which are still displayed in museums across the United States.
Bierstadt was part of a group of landscape painters who were known as the Rocky Mountain School, famous for their artwork focused on the Rocky Mountains and other landmarks of the American West as their primary subject. Other artists besides Albert Bierstadt typically included in the group include Thomas Hill, William Keith, and Thomas Moran. Their art style was sometimes referred to as luminism, which depicted calm and tranquil landscapes of nature, usually with still water and a soft sky illuminated by sunrise or sunset.