Before heading up the mountain, check out some new tools for outdoor exploration, modeled on museum audio guides. Audible Mount Diablo is a free series of electronic field guides downloadable to an iPhone, iPod or mp3 player.
Audible Mount Diablo combines interviews, music and local sounds, like the rush of wind and wildlife. Some segments are meant for the car ride up, and others are for stops along the trail. The iPod and iPhone versions of the tour have photographs that pop up to help identify plants and animals.
Narrators include ranger Carl Nielson along with local naturalists Seth Adams, Gary Bogue, Ken Lavin, Mike Moran and Beverly Ortiz. Actor Carl Magruder provides a historical perspective, reading excerpts from "Up and Down California" by 19th century botanist William Brewer and former Sierra editor Joan Hamilton hosts the programs.
The tours include:
* Introducing Mount Diablo, with an hour's worth of short takes on the mountain's heritage and history, with topics that include tarantulas, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, the Whitney Geological Survey, coal mining, early tourism, and native peoples.
* The Grand Loop Tour, including 12 stops on a tough 6.8-mile-long hike near the top, with topics covering views, history, birds, flowers, and conservation.
* The Mary Bowerman Tour, with nine stops on a gentle mile-long hike with great views. The audio tour focuses on geology and history.
By the end of 2011, a fourth option should be available -- Curry Point: Gateway to Diablo's Southside, exploring the ecological riches of the mountain's wild southside ridges and canyons.
"These tours are great aids to exploring Mount Diablo," said Save Mount Diablo's Julie Seelen. "Hikers can take them on the trail, but anyone taking a Sunday drive to the summit can listen to 'Introducing Mount Diablo' and learn more about the flora and fauna of the mountain while enjoying the incredible views."
The audio tours are free at www.savemountdiablo.org, where they can be sampled. A GPS-enabled version of the Grand Loop tour can be downloaded at www.everytrail.com.
They were created by the nonprofit organizations Save Mount Diablo, Mount Diablo Interpretive Association, and California State Parks Foundation.