Coronado walked for more than three years and never found the gold.

Maybe the National Park Service can do better.The Spanish explorer's route that crossed the plains, hills and canyons of the American Southwest has been nominated for designation as a national trail.

Congress has authorized the National Park Service to spend $250,000 to determine Coronado's route. The NPS said the study, like Coronado's hike, could take three years or more to complete.

Tanna Chattin, spokeswoman for the service's Southwest regional office in Santa Fe, N.M., said a national trail designation could bring tourists to the area. She said there is a growing demand for recreation sites, especially those that reflect the nation's heritage.

And tourists, of course, mean dollars, not in Spanish gold but in modern silver and green.

Chattin said there apparently is a market for more such entertainment.

"Some people go fishing in the Florida Keys and some people will sign up for a week following the Santa Fe Trail," she said. "There's a whole group of people who are outdoorsy and are trail walkers and hikers."

Coronado's unsuccessful search for the Seven Cities of Gold, in 1540-42, covered thousands of miles northward from the southwest coast of Mexico through the present states of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

He is said to be the first European to have seen such sights as the Grand Canyon, the Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas, and the rugged mesas and arroyos of the Oklahoma Panhandle.